Friday, March 14, 2008


Though they perch far apart on the avian family tree, different groups of birds that can learn songs use similar brain structures to pitch their tunes.

In all three groups of birds that are able to learn a tune -- parrots, songbirds and hummingbirds -- the brain structures for singing and learning to sing are embedded in areas that control movement, neurobiologists at Duke University in North Carolina this week said in a release.

The findings may also help solve the riddle of why humans (especially Italians) talk with our hands and voice, but chimps (except in the Planet of the Apes) can talk only with their hands.

"In its most specialised way, spoken language is the ability to control the learned movements of our larynx," neorobiologist Erich Jarvis said. "It's possible that human language pathways have also evolved in ways similar to these birds.

"Perhaps the evolution of vocal learning brain areas for birds and humans exploited a universal motor system that predates the split from the common ancestor of birds and mammals."

Professor Jarvis and his colleagues examined bird species with vocal learning skills and some without: garden warblers, zebra finches, budgerigars (an exceedingly cute species of parrot), Anna's hummingbirds and ring doves. The coneheads observed and manipulated bird behavior, then recorded which genes were active in the birds' brains when the birds moved and sang in certain ways.

While all birds vocalize, for most of them these sounds are genetically hardwired. Only parrots, songbirds and hummingbirds have the ability to learn songs. This type of vocal learning is similar to the way humans learn to speak, Professor Jarvis said.

Friday, March 07, 2008


This is about as close as I've been to a parrot in a few weeks.

I did, however, see two particularly cute rainbow lorikeets canoodling in a date palm, next to Novak's pub, in Northbridge, this morning. They were very chipper, having been deloused by a generous storm cloud.

Several passers by stopped to spy the colourful couple. So parrot appreciation could be on the up in Perth. Let's hope so.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. The matter in hand is a mic in a mic stand and Definition of Sound as the main brand.

No, hang on, back to the real matter at hand. The pic' above.

Yes, for the past few weeks a veritable cornucopia of parrots on South Street, Beaconsfield, has been stopping off at Chez Un tournesol for breakfast.

I took this snap Monday morning, and the silly things flew up onto a power line when I got too close.

They are wild, after all.

Wild, but mild.

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