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Early-morning Rustiness Helps Birds Practice Song

February 16, 2005

Sleep helps young birds master the art of song, a study in February 16, 2005 Nature shows. But it does so in a surprising way—when birds wake up they are worse than before they went to sleep, but then improve markedly during their morning’s practice.

Sébastien Derégnaucourt and colleagues recorded every single vocalization (around a million syllables per bird) made by 12 young male zebra finches over several months, as they got to grips with learning to imitate overheard songs. Upon waking up, birds were worse than the day before, but they surged ahead during the late morning to end up more skilful than before. This “one step back, two steps forward” pattern might help the birds to consolidate their vocal abilities while giving themselves the chance to relearn song sequences for best effect, the authors add. The birds’ learning even bears similarities to human speech development - novice birds go through a period of “babbling” before learning to imitate songs accurately, much as babies burble before grasping words.

Abstract © 2005 Nature

“How sleep affects the developmental learning of bird song,”
Sébastien Derégnaucourt, Partha P. Mitra, Olga Fehér, Carolyn Pytte, Ofer Tchernichovski, Nature, February 16, 2005

Sébastien Derégnaucourt (CCNY)