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Birds learn another ‘language’ by eavesdropping on neighbors

This new study shows that these birds can learn to associate new sounds with danger, without having to learn through trial and error.

CHRISTINA LARSON: ‘Wild animals are known to listen to each other for clues about lurking predators, effectively eavesdropping on other species’ chatter. Birds, for example, can learn to flee when neighbors cluck “hawk!” — or, more precisely, emit a distress call. The fairy wren, a small Australian songbird, is not born knowing the “languages” of other birds. But it can master the meaning of a few key “words,” as scientists explain in a paper published Thursday in the journal Current Biology. “We knew before that some animals can translate the meanings of other species’ ‘foreign languages,’ but we did not know how that ‘language learning’ came about,” said Andrew Radford, a biologist at the University of Bristol and co-author of the study.

Birds have several ways of acquiring life skills. Some knowledge is innate, and some is acquired from direct experience. Radford and other scientists are exploring a third kind of knowledge: acquiring information from peers… Previous research had shown that fairy wrens can learn the meaning of distress calls when actually encountering a predator. “What this new study does is remove the predator entirely. It shows that these birds can learn to associate new sounds with danger, without having to learn through trial and error,” said Templeton. In other words, one bird’s distress tweet can go viral’. SOURCE…

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