In “Finches tweet using grammar,” Clare Pain (ABC , 27 June 2011) reports
The scientists played jumbled-up birdsongs to individual finches to see whether the birds responded with the usual burst of calls to the jumbled songs. To their surprise they found that there were some jumbled songs that elicited a call-burst response and some that did not. Even more surprising: all the birds responded in the same way. If one bird ignored a jumbled call, all the other birds ignored that call too. It seems that the order of syllables matters to the birds, and that suggests grammar in action.
The birds, the researchers say, do better than monkeys would.
“Our results indicate that syllable sequences in birdsongs convey some information”, say the Japanese researchers, which leads one to wonder whether birds extract any meaning from their songs. “It may well mean something to the bird,” says Kaplan, “otherwise why would they bother?”
Many sources would advise caution about such a conclusion. This story follows an increasingly common, newer pattern: No alternative interpretation is sought.
File with: Bird tool use study provides answers, questions
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