Birds behave like human musicians

New York: The tuneful behaviour of some songbirds is similar to that of human musicians, who play around with their tunes, balancing repetition and variation just like jazz artists, a new study has found.

Researchers studied the pied butcherbird, a very musical species, which provided a wealth of intriguing data for analysis.

"Since pied butcherbird songs share so many commonalities with human music, this species could possibly revolutionise the way we think about the core values of music," said Hollis Taylor of Macquarie University in Australia.

In the past, claims that musical principles are integral to birdsong were largely met with scepticism and dismissed as wishful thinking.

However, the extensive statistical and objective analysis of the new research shows that the more complex a bird's repertoire, the better they are at singing in time, rhythmically interacting with other birds much more skillfully than those who know fewer songs.

The butcherbirds "balance their performance to keep it in a sweet spot between boredom and confusion," said Ofer Tchernichovski, professor at City University of New York (CUNY).

"Pied butcherbirds, not unlike jazz musicians, play around with their tunes, balancing repetition and variation," said Constance Scharff, who directs the animal behaviour laboratory at the Free University of Berlin.

Researchers, including those from New Jersey Institute of Technology in the US, suggest that such musical virtuosity may signify more than just the evolution of a way for birds to establish territorial dominance and facilitate mating.

It may also provide evidence that musical ability in birds was a precursor to the evolution of the many dimensions of musical ability in humans.

The study was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. — PTI Source:

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