Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bird brains

If you've ever listened to a crow bark like a dog or sing like a songbird or yell like a woman, you probably weren't suprised to read about a new study that shows that birds have a talent for language, and can be taught to recognize and distinguish grammar.

University of Chicago researchers found that European starlings could be taught to recognise the difference between a regular birdsong sentence and one containing a clause or another sentence. In a study published in the journal Nature, the researchers show how songs that birds have learned to recognize trigger responses both in individual neurons and in populations of neurons in the bird’s brain.

This is serious business for the birds, the researchers said. Daniel Margoliash, professor of organismal biology and anatomy and of psychology, and co-author of the paper, said the ability to match a singer to a song, often down to the level of an individual bird, can mean the difference between "a day spent wrestling through the thicket and one spent enjoying a sun-soaked perch, or the missed chance at mating with the healthiest partner around."

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