It takes Two to Tutor a Sparrow

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Seattle, Washington. (UW; ConCienciaNews) – If you’ve ever wondered how birds –particularly sparrows —learn to sing, the answer arrives from Seattle, where University of Washington’s scientists analyzed how young birds learn their songs’ repertoire.

The results of their study will appear on the October edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In summary, however, it can be said that eavesdropping on the singing conversations between two adult sparrows appears to be a key event in song learning.

This conclusion is based on the premise that this learning process in young birds parallels with human language learning: in each case, eavesdropping seems to play a role.

“They seem to be learning how to sing and interact by eavesdropping on interactions. This way they can learn shared songs, which will be important for their future success,” said Christopher Templeton, a UW biology doctoral student and lead author of the study. “Having shared song is the basis of song sparrow communications.”

The research stems from an earlier UW laboratory study that showed young sparrows acquire more of their songs when they eavesdrop on two birds than when they interact with a tutor. According to Templeton “the sparrows move closer, faster and farther when they heard recordings of two adult male sparrows interacting than when they heard recordings of a solo sparrow singing.”

Templeton added that by listening to two birds, the juvenile can also learn how the songs are used, something he can’t learn by listening to a single bird.

“The young bird could do this by directly interacting with a mature adult bird, but that is risky because he might be chased away or beaten up,” Templeton concluded