When doves cry

September 09, 2004

Next time you hear the cooing of a dove, think about how much goes into producing that familiar sound. According to a Brief Communication published in the September 09, 2004 Nature, doves use special superfast muscles to control their song, much as the rattlesnake does to operate its rattle. These muscles control their syrinx—a vocal organ unique to birds—and if the new findings can be generalized to other birds, then these specialist muscles may be more commonplace than was previously believed.

Using simultaneous recordings of muscle activity and sound in cooing ring doves (Streptopelia risoria), Coen Elemans and colleagues found that the vocal muscles were active when the birds were cooing but not when they were silent. Activating these muscles turns the sound on. A dove’s trill cannot be achieved just by using normal vertebrate muscles, as these can not switch on and off fast enough. The only muscles that are up to the job are aerobic superfast muscles, the fastest type known in vertebrates.

The researchers argue that because doves produce a relatively simple trill, songbirds could have muscles that outperform even those of doves.

Abstract © 2004 Nature

“Superfast muscles control dove’s trill,” Coen P.H. Elemans, Igor L.Y. Spierts, Ulrike K. Müller, Johan L. van Leeuwen, Franz Goller, Nature, September 09, 2004

Coen Elemans, Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands