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Fraternal singing in zebra finches

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Posted June 14, 2013
Singing siblings: zebra finches that grew up without their dads and therefore without a "song model", don't have to worry about a lack of singing repertoire. As researchers discovered, the birds can also learn their song through their brothers. Credit: Huet des Aunay

Singing siblings: zebra finches that grew up without their dads and therefore without a “song model”, don’t have to worry about a lack of singing repertoire. As researchers discovered, the birds can also learn their song through their brothers. Credit: Huet des Aunay

The song of songbirds is usually transmitted from one generation to the next by imitation learning and is thought to be similar to the acquisition of human speech. Although song is often learnt from an adult model, there is some evidence of active vocal learning among siblings. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen now showed that juvenile zebra finches that have been raised without their fathers are able to learn their song via a brother that for a short period had been exposed to the father’s’ song.

Remarkably, when comparing the songs of the two brothers, they turned out to be more alike than the song of the brother with its father. Thus, just like an adult tutor, a juvenile peer has the same potential to serve as a song model, and this could be a common strategy in birdsong learning.

Social learning from peers is a widespread phenomenon in infants. Peer group size may influence the degree to which interactions within the group can influence their own behaviour. This insight nowadays gains more importance as an increasing number of children get into contact with large group peers at an even earlier age, for example in day nurseries. The type of social partners can also be crucial for the intensity of social learning. A well-known example is the spontaneous development of a particular language in adolescent deaf children in several schools in Nicaragua in the eighties. These pupils invented a private sign-language with Creole characteristics. With this, they emancipated themselves from their unaware teachers who taught the normal sign language. Therefore, the same-age peers had the same or an even larger role model function than the adult teachers.

Read more at: Phys.org

 

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