Buzzed birds slur their songs, researchers find

 A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Credit: Wikipedia

A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Credit: Wikipedia

You know how that guy at the karaoke bar singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” sounds a little off after he’s had a few drinks? The same goes for buzzed birds, according to a team led by researchers from Oregon Health & Science University.

For a study published in PLoS ONE, scientists found that when they got some unsuspecting zebra finches drunk, the birds slurred their songs. The findings could help scientists study the neural processes underlying birdsong – and shed light on human speech.

While many scientists want to understand alcohol’s effects on such a complex system as speech, it’s difficult to perform the necessary studies on humans, which is why many researchers turn to birds. Continue reading

Drought causes birds to nest later, reducing nesting success

A recent study suggests drought conditions are delaying nesting by two weeks or more for some Sonoran Desert bird species, such as Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Verdins.

Despite recent rainfall, drought conditions persist in much of the southwestern U.S. Drought negatively impacts, many wildlife species, making it harder to maintain their numbers, even when adapted to a dry environment.

Newly published research from Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) finds that increased drought frequency in southwestern North America results in increased instances of delayed nesting. This delay can push the start of nesting back by several weeks in severe drought. This, in turn, makes it harder for many Sonoran Desert bird species to successfully produce young that year, as they are more vulnerable to nest predators and parasites. Continue reading

Genomics work suggests vocalizing birds could tell us more about human speech disorders

Think that sparrow whistling outside your bedroom window is nothing more than pleasant background noise?

 Scientists may be able to glean important insights from the genes of songbirds.

Scientists may be able to glean important insights from the genes of songbirds.

A new paper from a researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) suggests that we can apply what we know about songbirds to our understanding of human speech production—and, therefore, come closer to identifying and potentially even reducing the prevalence of disorders like stuttering and Huntington’s Disease.

In a paper published in Science this month, CSAIL postdoc Andreas Pfenning and collaborators at Duke University compared genetic maps of brain tissue from three groups: humans, vocal-learning birds, and non-vocal-learning birds and primates. Continue reading

Birds can sense storms days in advance, say scientists

  A golden-winged warbler, perhaps taking shelter from a storm. (Photo: Andy Reago/Wiki Commons)


A golden-winged warbler, perhaps taking shelter from a storm. (Photo: Andy Reago/Wiki Commons)

 

Do some animals have a “sixth sense” that allows them to predict things like earthquakes or the weather? According to scientists who are studying the migration patterns of the golden-winged warbler, the answer is yes, at least in regards to the weather, reports the Guardian.

After retrieving trackers that were fitted to a group of warblers, researchers noticed an odd pattern in the data. As the birds approached the southern United States on their way back from wintering in South America, they took a sharp detour, as if to avoid some invisible obstacle in their path. Continue reading

Amazonian bird chicks mimic poisonous caterpillar to avoid detection

 Laniocera hypopyrra. Credit: Santiago David-Rivera

Laniocera hypopyrra. Credit: Santiago David-Rivera

A trio of researchers has found and documented the case of a newly hatched bird with plumage that mimics a poisonous caterpillar to ward off predators. In their paper published in American Naturalist, Gustavo Londoño, Duván García and Manuel Sánchez Martínez, describe finding the young birds and observing their habits while in their nests.

Scientists have discovered a number of creatures that mimic other species to protect themselves from predators, but until now, no evidence for it has been found in birds, (aside from one that makes a noise like a rattlesnake). The team found that cinereous mourner (Laniocera hypopyrra) chicks are born with bright orange coloring that very closely resembles one of two large, hairy toxic caterpillars (Podalia or Megalopyge), and even behave like them while in the nest. The adults, on the other hand, are rather bland with mostly grey feathers. Continue reading

Scientists discover how birds localize sound sources

 Birds’s heads are the key to their ability to locate the source of a sound, say scientists from Munich. (Steve Perez/ Associated Press)

Birds’s heads are the key to their ability to locate the source of a sound, say scientists from Munich. (Steve Perez/ Associated Press)

German researchers have figured out how birds locate the source of a sound even though they don’t have external ears.

Outer ears on mammals help the animal identify whether sounds are coming above, below or at the same level.

Technische Universität München (TUM) has solved that mystery, publishing its findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

The location of a sound is key to survival, say the scientists. For instance, blackbirds perform sing-offs to attract partners. The female must identify the correct suitor by locating the sound she prefers. Continue reading