It’s not real world Dr. Doolittle. An ecologist specializing in a little-known science in Christchurch, New Zealand: bird dialects.
While some birds are born knowing how to sing from birth, most people should be taught how to sing by adults, just like humans. These birds can develop regional dialects, so their songs are slightly different depending on where they live. Consider Boston and Georgia accents, but for birds.
Just as speaking the local language can make it easier for people to adapt, speaking the local bird dialect can increase a bird’s chances of finding a partner. And more sinisterly, just as the world is globalized, human dialects can sometimes disappear, as the cities grow, bird mouths can also take shape or disappear.
The similarities between human language and bird song are not lost in Molles or bird dialect experts.
“There are great parallels,” writes the author of “Birdsong for Curious Naturalists: Your Guide to Listening”, the American curious scientist Donald Kroodsma said. “Culture, oral traditions – all the same.”
The first bird dialect specialists
Over the centuries bird song inspired poets and musicians, but until the 1950s scientists began to really pay attention to bird dialects.
According to ornithologist David Luther, scientists in the 60s and 70s put the baby birds in soundproofing rooms to see if they could sing their songs.
Scientists have discovered that some birds – those who learned their songs – could not sing at all. “They continued like a baby chatter throughout their lives.” Said. These birds are known as “true songbirds”. Singing in other birds was innate. “When they got older, they were able to sing a great song, no problem.”
When birds copy adults, scientists have discovered, sometimes they make a mistake. This error is copied by other birds in turn and a local dialect develops. This means that dialects can only exist in true songbirds, because “they have a learned oral tradition,” says Kroodsma.
American ornithologist Elizabeth Derryberry said that dialects can be created by adapting birds to the local environment. Birds that can be heard better find a better partner, so their songs are more likely to be passed on from generation to generation.
It is about an idea developed by Bernie Krause, the founder of sound environment ecology, where animals make sounds with different sounds and they can all be heard.
Some dialects change quickly even during a breeding season. Other birds cling to their dialects for decades. When Luther researched the dialects of the white-crowned sparrows, a common bird in San Francisco, San Francisco found that some dialects had never changed.
Dialects and dating (in birds)
Dialects can be very useful for something that is often the result of a copy glitch.
According to Molles, birds are communicating for two reasons: either trying to describe their neighbors or trying to attract females. “Unfortunately, there is nothing very poetic,” he replies.
Knowing the local dialect allows for more complex interaction when it comes to defending land from other birds of the same non-local species in the area. Imitating a note note looks aggressive towards birds, so having a wider repertoire means that a bird can score its score without climbing into interaction.
Knowing the local dialect is also useful in finding a romantic partner.
Many kinds of singing men. According to Molles, females tend to prefer a familiar dialect – they suggest that males know the local area, have land, and are not just “someone who goes through it.” Some birds are bilingual, even trilingual – perhaps because they grow around different local dialects. When they mate, they will prefer to speak their local dialect wherever they choose to settle, Luther said.
However, having the right dialect is not an insurmountable barrier.
Kroodsma gave the example of the prairie warbler, which is located in Massachusetts and has been returning annually for the past few years. Although the bird has a very atypical song, it attracted females and raised babies every year.
“Someone might say, ‘There’s an innovation effect, there’s a male with a very different song, and all females think it’s sexy,'” But that’s just a wild guess. “
This is something researchers think in places like New Zealand, where threatened birds are sometimes reintroduced into new areas. Researchers want to make sure that if they reintroduce birds, they will be reintegrated, even if they don’t have the right dialect.
According to Molles’ experience, a group of birds tend to work if they are released again at the same time, so they have other birds with a strange dialect.
It was about reintroducing Kokako, a native gray-blue bird with a violin-like call, to the New Zealand region, hundreds of kilometers from where they were born. At first, newcomers can breed among themselves. However, in the future, they may be integrated. The offspring of newcomers will begin to hybridize with the offspring of the original population, both new and familiar with the local dialect.
“The female may not be looking for someone who matches the song her father is singing,” Molles said. Said. “He finds a mate that fits the area he wants to settle in – not just a strange bird that doesn’t belong there.”
How do people change bird mouths?
As cities around the world locked, Derryberry asked a series of questions.
Over the years, birds began to sing louder so that cities could be heard throughout the low hum of traffic and construction. What happens to birds when cities are quiet? Would the next generation of birds sing in a lower voice if it were quieter? And next year, when it comes time for breeding, is it heard when city noise turns?
He is still trying to answer these questions, but Kroodsma suspects that short-term silence can be long enough to have any effect on bird dialects.
Even if our coronavirus closures did not change the mouths this time around, it is worth considering how we generally shape and destroy the mouths. Kroodsma says that something as small as a powerline may be enough to divide a bird population and lead to the creation of a new dialect.
Molles recalls that he found historical records of the now-extinct indigenous Kokako population.
“Some of the songs in these tapes were incredible – strange metallic sounds that you would never have predicted were made by a bird.”
“It is very sad to hear and think about some of them, we will never hear about it again.”
Design and graphics by Jason Kwok and Natalie Leung. Developed by Marco Chacón.