Song Birds' Brains Store Music Chart For Duet
November 4, 2011

Song Birds’ Brains Store Music Chart For Duet

Researchers have determined that the brains of a male and female song bird store a record of their complete duet.

Neuroscientist Eric Fortune of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues went to the slopes of Antisana volcano in Ecuador to study the plain-tailed wren. 

The two birds alternated singing back and forth, singing a duet that sounds as if a single bird sang it.

The researchers found that both brains of each bird had a complete duet memorized, which is a performance that neither bird can do by itself.

“What we learned is that when it comes to the brain and cooperation, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts,” Fortune, of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said in a press release. “We found that the brain of each individual participant prefers the combined activity over his or her own part.”

The team said that the birds' duet alternates syllables, "very sharply, shrilly and loudly."

“The wrens made an ideal subject to study cooperation because we were easily able to tape-record their singing and then make detailed measurements of the timing and sequences of syllables, and of errors and variability in singing performances," Fortune said in a press release.

The researchers monitored activity in the area of their brains that control singing during the study. 

“In both males and females, we found that neurons reacted more strongly to the duet song — with both the male and female birds singing — over singing their own parts alone,"  Forturne said in a press release. "In fact, the brain´s responses to duet songs were stronger than were responses to any other sound. It looked like the brains of wrens are wired to cooperate.”

The study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Science.


Image Caption: The researchers were surprised to find that the brains of both birds had a record of the complete duet--a performance that neither bird can do by itself. Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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