The European starling boasts a remarkable repertoire. Versatile songbirds that learn warbles, whistles, calls, and songs throughout their lives, starlings rank among the most advanced avian vocal learners.
The European starling boasts a remarkable repertoire. Versatile songbirds that learn warbles, whistles, calls, and songs throughout their lives, starlings rank among the most advanced avian vocal learners. Now a new study published in Science finds that starlings, along with other complex vocal learners, are also superior problem solvers.
“There is a long-standing hypothesis that only the most intelligent animals are capable of complex vocal learning,” says Jean-Nicolas Audet, a research associate in the laboratory of Erich Jarvis at The Rockefeller University. “If that is true, then complex vocal learners should also be better at cognitive tasks, but no one had ever demonstrated that before.”
Only a handful of animal groups are capable of complex vocal learning, roughly defined as the ability to learn and retain a large number of sounds. Humans, elephants, whales, seals, and bats represent most mammalian vocal learners; songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds cover the birds. The Jarvis lab has long focused on songbirds, and ranks their vocal learning complexity across three metrics: how many songs and calls are in the bird’s repertoire, whether the bird can continue to learn new songs and calls throughout its life, and whether it can mimic other species.
To determine whether vocal learning is linked to different cognitive abilities in songbirds, Audet and colleagues spent three years catching hundreds of wild birds from 21 species in mist nets at The Rockefeller University Field Research Center, a sprawling 1,200 protected acres of land compromising many different ecosystems in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Read more at The Rockefeller University