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Cowbird Song and Password

Listening for the right code
© Linda Petersen View Large

As most young male birds get ready to leave the nest, they learn their species’ song by hearing their male parent sing it again and again. They imprint on their father’s song. So how does a Brown-headed Cowbird, raised by parents of a different species, learn to sing the correct song? The “chatter call” of an adult cowbird triggers something in the young bird’s brain. Like a kind of “password,” the chatter call guides the young bird in recognizing what species to identify with, even though cowbirds are fostered by as many as 220 different species!

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®  

Cowbird Song Requires a Password

Written by Bob Sundstrom

 This is BirdNote.
[Song Sparrow song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/222034, 0.36-.39]
For most songbirds, like this Song Sparrow, learning their own species’ song is a straightforward proposition. As young male birds get ready to leave the nest for good, they hear their male parent singing again and again.  They learn to copy him — they imprint on their father’s song.
[Song Sparrow song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/222034, 0.36-.39]
But what about a Brown-headed Cowbird, raised by foster parents of a different species altogether? How does the young bird learn to sing the correct song?
Scientists think that when a young cowbird hears the “chatter call” of an adult cowbird,
[Brown-headed Cowbird chatter call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/516718, 0.40-.41], something is triggered in its brain, and it begins to learn the song of its own species. Like a kind of “password,” the chatter call guides the young bird in recognizing what species to identify with.  [Brown-headed Cowbird chatter call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/516718, 0.40-.41]
Then, when the young cowbird is ready — probably when it’s two years old — and hears an adult male Brown-headed Cowbird sing [Brown-headed Cowbird song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/126422, 0.14], it will imprint on that song.
[Brown-headed Cowbird song]
It’s a remarkable adaptation, even more so when you consider that cowbirds are fostered by as many as 220 different species. And they still wind up learning their own song.
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
[Brown-headed Cowbird song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/126422, 0.14]
                                                                               ###
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Randolph S Little, Wilbur L Hershberger and Thomas G Sander.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing  Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org   August 2017   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#      BHCO-02-2017-08-03    BHCO-02        


Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/grrlscientist/2017/05/11/cowbirds-secret-id...

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