The song of a twittering bird sounds lovely in its own right, but a new study says that each bird species learn to sing their own song differently.

By Zee Krstic
November 13, 2019

Unless you're a bonafide bird expert, telling songbirds apart while in the wild can be tricky—some of their tunes are so strikingly similar that only a trained ear could discern the minute differences. Though they know each songbird belts out their signature tune, bird experts have long struggled to determine why that is. Could songbirds be influenced by other birds or various avian species around them? According to new research published in the journal PLOS Biology by a team of scientists at Hokkaido University in Japan, it seems that songbirds rarely influence each other, and that their own tunes may be a result of genetics.

Sergio Mendoza Hochmann / Getty Images

The study, published this week and highlighted by ScienceDaily, suggests that gene activity in the bird's brain region known as the "song nuclei" could be the sole determination of how they actually sound. While scientists have previously determined how most complex motor skills are passed down in birds (as they are in humans), experts have failed to understand how song behaviors are learned by different bird species. 

Related: The Best Places for Birdwatching in the United States

The song nuclei has been linked to birds' songs after researchers closely studied two different songbirds—the zebra finch and the owl finch—and their interspecies' offspring. They discovered that all the birds involved in their test ended up being influenced by their genetics and embodied their species-specific song, even if they were "taught" another bird's song by being in proximity. 

The results of the study suggest that there are neurogenetic elements in differences between bird species that could explain why each birds' learned behavior is wildly different. While the research is an important step in discovering more about birds' evolution, lead researcher Kazuhiro Wada, a professor of biology at Hokkaido University, says there's more work to be done to truly comprehend the beautiful intricacies of songbirds. "We believe that this isn't just about bird songs," the lead author, Kazuhiro Wada said in a press release. "Our study is a promising step to understand how the changes in gene regulation could eventually lead to the evolution of species-specific animal behaviors."

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