Bird Song – Learn

Dawn Chorus


Just as children learn to talk by listening to the older people around them, song birds learn to sing by mimicking their parents and other adults. And apparently some baby birds are getting a head start. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

“Birds learn songs by oral tradition, if you will, in the same way as human beings.”

And, according to Luis Baptista, a renowned authority on bird song, it’s not all clear whether adult birds deliberately pass on this tradition.

ambience: Mourning dove

“For example, in mourning doves, a male mourning dove comes home and he usually sings, I think, just before he leaves the nest, and so the little babies hear his voice and even though they can’t imitate his voice, they store it in their brains and they use that to recognize the father, to distinguish him from other males, you see. So it’s difficult to say whether the males deliberately sing to teach the children or whether the fact is they sing and the byproduct of that is that the children are listening and they learn.”

In most bird species, as in humans, there’s a window of time for learning language — the first hundred days of life. But among some birds that live in large colonies, babies get to know their parents’ voices while still inside the egg.

“If you play vocalizations to an egg 48 hours before it hatches, the little bird comes out of the egg, and it’s able to run already, and you put two speakers, and in one you play the sound of its real parents, which it’s never heard, it won’t go to that speaker. But if you play the sounds that you played into the egg, which it heard 48 hours before it left the egg, it goes straight to that speaker. That shows that during that time window, it lea.rns the characteristics of its parent’s voice.”

Our series on bird song is dedicated to the memory of Luis Baptista, who passed away recently. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Bird Song - Learn

Just as children learn to talk, young birds learn to sing from the adults around them. Some baby birds are apparently listening from inside the egg.
Air Date:10/04/2000
Scientist:
Transcript:

Dawn Chorus


Just as children learn to talk by listening to the older people around them, song birds learn to sing by mimicking their parents and other adults. And apparently some baby birds are getting a head start. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

"Birds learn songs by oral tradition, if you will, in the same way as human beings."

And, according to Luis Baptista, a renowned authority on bird song, it's not all clear whether adult birds deliberately pass on this tradition.

ambience: Mourning dove

"For example, in mourning doves, a male mourning dove comes home and he usually sings, I think, just before he leaves the nest, and so the little babies hear his voice and even though they can't imitate his voice, they store it in their brains and they use that to recognize the father, to distinguish him from other males, you see. So it's difficult to say whether the males deliberately sing to teach the children or whether the fact is they sing and the byproduct of that is that the children are listening and they learn."

In most bird species, as in humans, there's a window of time for learning language -- the first hundred days of life. But among some birds that live in large colonies, babies get to know their parents' voices while still inside the egg.

"If you play vocalizations to an egg 48 hours before it hatches, the little bird comes out of the egg, and it's able to run already, and you put two speakers, and in one you play the sound of its real parents, which it's never heard, it won't go to that speaker. But if you play the sounds that you played into the egg, which it heard 48 hours before it left the egg, it goes straight to that speaker. That shows that during that time window, it lea.rns the characteristics of its parent's voice."

Our series on bird song is dedicated to the memory of Luis Baptista, who passed away recently. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.