Even bad tutors can’s make birds sing badly

May 28th, 2009 - 1:14 pm ICT by IANS  

London, May 28 (IANS) Male canaries sing well even when they are exposed to tutors lacking basic features of the song of their species.
The learning of birdsong resembles speech learning in humans. Crucial for the process are acoustic perception and the ability to produce sound.

Social isolation leads to a disturbed vocal development both in humans and in birds. When children grow up without contact with other humans, they either develop no or a rudimentary form of human language.

A similar scenario occurs in songbirds when juveniles are removed from their parents and are raised apart. Although these birds develop song, it usually contains abnormalities.

Whether the descendants of such birds accept these abnormal songs of their parents as a song model was investigated by researchers Sandra Belzner and Stefan Leitner from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, on domesticated canaries.

The researchers established a group of “poor” singing tutors by raising young canaries in isolation from adult males but in contact with peers and females.

When these poor singers later on sired offspring, the adult males were removed only after juveniles had reached the age of 60-70 days and thus had started song development already.

Detailed song analysis showed that the juveniles did not simply copy the bad songs of their tutors, but rather developed a version that resembled more the song of normal canaries.

“Apparently these birds possess an innate template for species-specific song that needs to be activated by hearing song,” said Cornelia Voigt, study co-author.

When the researchers introduced the male offspring in their second year to normally singing canary males, they found that their songs did not contain any changes, said a Max Planck release.

These findings were published in Wednesday’s online edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

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