Science News | Study Finds Songs Sparrow’s Shuffle, Repeat to Keep Audiences Engaged

Durham [US], January 27 (ANI): A new study has found that male sparrows deliberately mix and match their song repertoire, possibly to keep it interesting to their female audience.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B Journal.

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Research from the lab of Stephen Nowicki, a professor of biology at Duke University and a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, and colleagues at the University of Miami showed that singing men track the order of their songs and how often they will sing up to Sung for 30 minutes so they can curate both their current and next playlist.

Song sparrows are a common passerine bird throughout North America, but only males sing. They use their song to defend their territory and court mates.

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When courting, song sparrows belt out up to 12 different two-second songs, a repertoire that can take nearly 30 minutes to get through as they repeat the same song multiple times before moving on to the next track. Besides varying the number of repeats, men also shuffle the order of their tunes each time they sing their discography. A big unknown, however, was whether men accidentally or intentionally change their song order and repeats.

To get some data on whether or not the birds intentionally mix and match their tunes, Nowicki’s longtime collaborator William Searcy, the Maytag professor of ornithology in biology at the University of Miami, loaded up the recording equipment and headed out into the backwoods of northwestern Pennsylvania, pointed microphones at the trees and waited patiently five hours a day.

Nowicki said that fieldwork like this isn’t for everyone: “I would never use the word boring because it’s relaxing when you like being out in the field and it’s a nice day and you have your parabolic microphone and you have your parabolic microphone pointing at something for hours at a song sparrow. Some people would find that boring. I, and certainly Bill, would find this meditatively relaxing. The only thing that happens is sometimes your arm gets tired.”

After recording the entire sequence of songs from more than 30 birds, the team pored over visual spectrograms of the trills and analyzed how often and in what order each song was sung. The first clue that men were keeping tabs on their tweets to avoid repeats was that men generally sing through their entire repertoire before repeating a song, much like a Spotify playlist.

The researchers also found that the more times a sparrow sang a particular song, the longer it took it to return to that song, possibly to build hype and novelty once that song was played again. For example, if a man sang song A 10 times in a row, he sang even more renditions of his other songs before returning to song A again.

Alternatively, if song A was warbled only three times during a movement, a male song sparrow might recite a shorter rendition of the rest of his repertoire to return to the still new and underperformed song A.

Taken together, these results indicate that singing sparrows possess an extremely rare talent with an equally unusual name: “remote addiction.” This meant that what a male sparrow is singing now depends on what he was singing 30 minutes ago. That’s 360 times the storage capacity of the previous record holder, the canary, which can only juggle about five seconds of song information this way.

The human implications of this work, while impressive, are less clear. It suggests that the order of words in human language, which is similarly influenced by long-distance dependencies, may not be as unique as once thought.

It remains to be seen if better blending ability will give men an edge in their love search. Perhaps females retain interest in a mate who confuses them more and are less likely to sneak off with another male. As with daytime talk shows, paternity tests are a good predictor of monogamy in birds, so counting how many chicks are fathered by a female’s nestmate compared to another bird in the neighborhood could be a future project for Nowicki’s team.

For now, Nowicki stresses that it’s only speculation whether these shuffling song sparrows will give Spotify a fight for their money to keep a woman interested, but highlights our similar approach at the gym.

“You have your running playlist and the reason is that running is kind of boring. You know these 10 songs will motivate you, but if you’re going to run for 20 songs, why not mix it up so next time you don’t hear the same songs in the same order?” he said.

Support for the research came from the Office of the Provost, Duke University, and the University of Miami’s Robert E. Maytag Professor Research Fund. (ANI)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from the Syndicated News feed, LatestLY staff may not have modified or edited the content.)

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