(CN) — Female Bengalese finches, some of the most popular cagebirds in the world, instinctively prefer the songs of the fathers that raised them for their entire lives — a predilection not shared by their male counterparts.
Of all the numerous tools and abilities avian creatures have at their disposal, few are as crucial as a bird’s song. The winged creatures’ melodic chirpings allow them to attract prospective mates, ward off rivals from territory they have already laid claim to and are also used to strengthen bonds with their offspring.
Many bird species have a long-term song memory, but little is known about how the birds use their musical memory as they navigate the perils of adult life. In an effort to shed some light on the subject, researchers led by Tomoko G. Fujii from the University of Tokyo ran a series of experiments with Bengalese finches, also known as society finches.
Their results, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, reveal that birds prefer certain songs more than others and that such preferences can stay with them for their entire adult lives.
To help explore these preferences, researchers set up an experiment with 20 different Bengalese finches — 10 male, 10 female — hailing from almost a dozen different bird families. Each bird was placed in a long cage, with different sets of loudspeakers and audio playback devices placed at either end of the cage. Researchers then played different songs, some belonging to that particular bird’s father and some random, to see if the finches would behave any differently to the songs they recognized.
Researchers found that female Bengalese finches seemed to naturally gravitate towards and interact with the side of the cage that played their father’s birdsong.
This preference, however, was not shared by the males of the group. While researchers observed that female finches retained a preference for their father’s birdsong regardless of their age, male finches seemed to lose their interest in their father’s song as they got older.
Researchers are not sure why such a preference difference exists but suspect that it ties back to the fact that males require more vocal training at a younger age than females, a need that may drive them to be more attentive listeners as chicks but not so much as adults.
“Because juvenile males need to hear and memorize tutor song in the process of vocal learning, it is possible that the degree to which juveniles are inclined to listen to tutor song is related to the sensory learning process,” the study states.
The study also hypothesized that this difference in lifelong birdsong preference could be related to the courtship needs of males and females. Because males use their songs as a courtship signal to potential female mates, females could have evolved with a higher degree of sensitivity for different birdsongs that makes it possible for them to develop lifelong preferences for songs they are familiar with.
To help determine which of these theories ultimately hold water, researchers stress that future study on the issue is needed. Only through more comprehensive studies into avian behavior, such as ones examining the relationship between a bird’s behavior and their brain activity when presented with certain birdsongs, will experts begin to solve the mysteries behind some of nature’s most gifted vocalists.