In another display of creativity in creation, scientists recently discovered some birds’ brains synchronize with each other so the group’s dominant couple can sing a perfectly timed and precisely pitched duet. Other members of the group serve as a background choir in a performance that helps the birds defend their territory.
According to a study published June 12 in the journal Nature Communications, researchers outfitted a group of white-browed sparrow-weavers—small birds found mainly in southern and eastern Africa—with tiny backpacks containing mobile recording devices. They also implanted electrodes into the birds’ brains to record neural activity before releasing them into their natural habitats.
Scientists analyzed data from 650 duets and discovered the dominant male usually initiates the song, then the female partner joins. Her response triggers a change in the brain activity of the male, whose song in turn affects the brain activity of the female. The result is a precise synchronization of the brain area that controls vocalization in both birds. It allows the birds to sing perfectly in tune with timing so precise researchers noted only a one-quarter of a second delay between one portion of the duet and the next.
Researchers suspect a similar process may take place in certain human interactions, such as coordinating movement when dancing with a partner.
The birds live in groups of up to eight. As well as serving as vocal back-up for the dominant pair’s duets, other group members help build nests and raise young. —J.B.