Bullfinches have ability to learn to sing human melodies

Last Updated: Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 18:56

Washington: Bullfinches learn to sing melodies accurately from human teachers, a new study has revealed.

According to a new study by the late Nicolai Jurgen and researchers from the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany, the analysis of human melody singing in bullfinches gives insights into the songbirds` brain processes.

The songs of free-living bullfinches are soft and contain syllables that are similar to the whistled notes of human melodies.

Teaching birds to imitate human melodies was a popular hobby in the 18th and 19th centuries and the bullfinch was the favourite species.

Using historical data recorded for 15 bullfinches, hand-raised by Jurgen Nicolai between 1967 and 1975, the researchers studied whether the bullfinches memorized and recalled the note sequence of the melodies in smaller subunits, as humans do, or in their entirety, as a linear chain, which is much simpler.

They also analyzed the accuracy of the bullfinch`s choices and how a bird continues to sing after the human partner pauses. They focused on whether the bird chooses the right note sequence at the right time - so-called alternate singing.

When birds sing solo, they do not retrieve the learned melody as a coherent unit, but as modules, containing much smaller sub-sequences of 4-12 notes.

The researchers investigated the cognitive processes that allow the bullfinch to continue singing the correct melody part when its human partner stops.

They found evidence that as soon as the human starts whistling again, the birds can match the note sequence they hear to the memorized tune in their brain. They anticipate singing the consecutive part of the learned melody and are able to vocalize it at the right time when the human partner stops whistling.

The authors said that the Bullfinches can cope with the complex and demanding cognitive challenges of perceiving a human melody in its rhythmic and melodic complexities and learn to sing it accurately.

The work has been published online in Springer`s journal Animal Cognition.

ANI



First Published: Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 18:56

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