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Practice and Song Development in Zebra Finches

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Male zebra finches reared by both parents were placed in isolation from day 35 to day 70 of life, the sensitive phase for song learning, and exposed to a singing adult male thereafter. Half the birds were stimulated to practice by a tape of birdroom noise during their period in isolation, and the practice of all birds was monitored. Those that were stimulated did practice more during the period when the tape was on, but the overall amount of practice in both groups was very high, rising to occur in 60-80% of all 10 min monitoring sessions after 50 days of age. Individual differences were considerable. In the unstimulated group, there was some suggestion that birds which practised more had achieved greater song stereotypy on one measure by day 70. However, the hypothesis that birds which practised more would be more likely to develop copies of their fathers' songs was not supported. Instead, the final song of birds in both groups was clearly based on that of the tutor introduced at 70 days. While the results point to a great deal of practice by young zebra finches, they do not suggest that greater practice leads to earlier crystallisation of song or increases the likelihood of copying songs heard earlier.

Affiliations: 1: School of Biological & Medical Sciences, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KYl6 9TS, U.K.;, Email:; 2: School of Biological & Medical Sciences, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KYl6 9TS, U.K.


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