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...

Read More

Those gibbons sure can wail

Birds are not the only animals that communicate by singing—gibbons, apes more closely resembling monkeys in size, sing to strengthen social relationships, announce their territory and find a mate. Crested gibbons in the genus Nomascus live in the Asian rain forests of China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and sing for a specific purpose. “The songs are specifically adapted to travel over long distances through the dense vegetation of the rain forest by concentrating all of the energy into a single frequency, similar to the calls used by rain forest birds,” wrote Jennifer Welsh in a Live Science article. The coloration in gibbons varies by individual, making it difficult for researchers and conservationists to distinguish between species. But as Sarah Zielinski reported in yesterday’s Surprising Science post, scientists from the German Primate Center in Goettingen examined the songs of seven species of crested gibbons and found that each species had its own distinct dialect. “The researchers found that the songs of the two northern species, N. nasutus and N. concolor, were significantly different from those of the four southern species, and the songs of the four southern species were all subtly different from one another. And the more closely related two species or populations songs were, the more alike was their mitochondrial DNA.” The findings, said the researchers, could help to monitor gibbon populations through song, as opposed to visual, recognition. In addition, continued Welsh, “[t]he gradation of song similarity between the northern and southern populations supports the idea that the genus began in the north and migrated toward the south.” Read more at “Crested Gibbons Sing in Different Dialects.” Photo Credit: Tim...

Read More