Birds Possess an Innate Vocal Signature Based on Silent Gaps

 Zebra finches reared by another species learn to sing their foster parents’ song with rhythms characteristic of their genetic background.

Diana Kwon
Diana Kwon
Mar 1, 2017

VOCAL COACH: A zebra finch (left) learned to sing from its foster parent, a Bengalese finch (right). OKINAWA INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

EDITOR’S CHOICE IN NEUROSCIENCE

The paper
M. Araki et al., “Mind the gap: Neural coding of species identity in birdsong prosody,” Science, 354:1282-87, 2016.

Vocal signatures
Bird songs contain scads of information, including a bird’s species identity and reproductive potential. According to Yoko Yazaki-Sugiyama of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, there are two competing elements within an individual bird’s song: the characteristics common to all members of their species, and distinct elements that each male bird develops.

Foster parents
How zebra finches retain species identity within their unique songs was not clear, so to find out, Yazaki-Sugiyama and her team placed baby zebra finches with Bengalese finch parents. Although the young zebra finches adopted the syllables of their foster parents’ songs, their tunes maintained their own...