Songbird can keep time with the best of them

When it comes to keeping time, an unassuming species of songbird is on a par with professional musicians, according to new research led by scientists at The University of Texas at Austin.

The study is the first to investigate natural time-keeping ability of an animal in the wild rather than under observation in the lab, with scientists examining the song of the scaly-breasted wren, a small brown bird in Central and South America known for its whistle-like chirps.

The song of the wild birds demonstrated better time-keeping skills than those of mammals and birds trained in captivity. The results underscore the importance of studying animals in both the lab and in nature to get an accurate view of their abilities, said lead author Carlos Antonio Rodriguez-Saltos.

“We should use the power of biodiversity to understand these things while we still can,” said Saltos, who conducted the research when he was a postdoctoral researcher at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences.

The results were published in Animal Behaviour. Jackson School Professor Julia Clarke co-authored the study.

Birds don’t have songbooks. But some species sing the same tune, chirping notes in an identifiable pattern. For the scaly-breasted wren, the pattern goes like this: an opening blast of chirps followed by alternating intervals of chirps and pauses, with the pauses between each chirp getting progressively longer.

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