ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Three Cheers for Birdbrains

A former secretary of mine asked me how could I stand writing about birdsong all these years. The answer is simple. Birdsong is a learned skill controlled by a remarkable brain. Try to link the bird's brain to the bird's song and things get very exciting. In 1964 it seemed as if the avian vocal organ, the syrinx, was a good place to start understanding the relation between brain and song. I started with chaffinches. I found that an alarmed chaffinch, which had had the nerves to the syrinx cut, b

Fernando Nottebohm
A former secretary of mine asked me how could I stand writing about birdsong all these years. The answer is simple. Birdsong is a learned skill controlled by a remarkable brain. Try to link the bird's brain to the bird's song and things get very exciting.

In 1964 it seemed as if the avian vocal organ, the syrinx, was a good place to start understanding the relation between brain and song. I started with chaffinches. I found that an alarmed chaffinch, which had had the nerves to the syrinx cut, breathed with difficulty. This problem could be avoided if one cut only the right or left nerve to the syrinx. Song was distorted, but breathing was not. I denervated the left half of the syrinx in many chaffinches and made careful notes of how their song was distorted. Many months later, I operated on one chaffinch's right side. The song...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?
ADVERTISEMENT