Zebra finches practice singing for the ladies

The male zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) learns to sing in private before performing for a female audience, according to Satoshi Kojima and Allison J. Doupe from the University of California, San Francisco. In addition, juvenile male finches seem to step up the quality of their singing, despite their immaturity, when in the presence of potential mates.

As described in the blog Talking Science, part of National Public Radio’s Science Friday Initiative, “Male finches, by the time they are sexually mature, typically know two different forms of song: undirected, which is performed in isolation, and directed, which is performed for a female audience. Young males learn undirected song first, which characteristically sounds immature and is of variable quality. As adults, they become experts in directed song, a talent they refine specifically for the purpose of courting females.”

As the researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, the juveniles, when performing for females, seemed to focus on the best parts of the songs that they practiced in private. Kara Rogers wrote in Talking Science, “The discovery reveals that the undirected song of young male finches disguises the actual extent of the birds’ song-learning capabilities…”

In other words, despite their inexperience, immature male finches were able to sing at the level of mature finches in the appropriate social conditions: When there was a chance to  mate.

Read about the zebra finch genome in Nature or take the songbird call challenge at enature.com.

Photo Credit: Patricia van Casteren

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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