Munich Neuroscience Calendar


28.11.2019, 13:00 Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie
until 14:00
Event Type: Talk
Speaker: Dan Mennill
Institute: University of Windsor

Title: Vocal learning in wild birds: the dynamics of vocal learning in nature

Seminar room, bldg. 4
82319 Seewiesen

Host: Henrik Brumm
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In eight groups of animals, including humans and songbirds, juveniles are understood to learn vocalizations by listening to adults. Experimental studies of laboratory-reared animals support this hypothesis but we lack experimental evidence of vocal learning in wild animals. I developed an innovative playback technology involving automated loudspeakers that broadcast songs with distinctive acoustic signatures. My collaborators and I used this technology to simulate vocal tutors in the wild and conducted year-long tutoring sessions to five cohorts of free-living migratory Savannah Sparrows. We confirm that wild birds learn songs by listening to adult conspecific animals, and we show that they pass these songs on to subsequent generations. Further, we provide the first experimental evidence in the wild that the timing of exposure to tutor song influences vocal learning: wild Savannah Sparrows preferentially learn songs heard during both their natal summer and at the outset of their first breeding season. This research provides direct experimental evidence of song learning by wild animals and shows that wild birds learn songs during two critical stages of development early in life.

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