Great grey owls, adults and youngsters


This video is about great grey owls, both adults and youngsters, in Sweden.

This video is also about great grey owls, both adults and youngsters, in Sweden.

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Zebra finch song and human speech


This video says about itself:

15 November 2012

A zebra finch male sings to a female that he thinks is attractive. She’s just not that into him though. Better luck next time fella.

From McGill University in Canada:

Do birdsong and human speech share biological roots?

Experiments with zebra finches suggest songbirds also have ‘universal grammar’

November 22, 2017

Do songbirds and humans have common biological hardwiring that shapes how they produce and perceive sounds?

Scientists who study birdsong have been intrigued for some time by the possibility that human speech and music may be rooted in biological processes shared across a variety of animals. Now, research by McGill University biologists provides new evidence to support this idea.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that young zebra finches — a species often used to study birdsong — are intrinsically biased to learn to produce particular kinds of sound patterns over others. “In addition, these sound patterns resembled patterns that are frequently observed across human languages and in music”, says Jon Sakata, Associate Professor of Biology at McGill and senior author of a paper published online in Current Biology on Nov. 22.

On the shoulders of Chomsky

The idea for the experiments was inspired by current hypotheses on human language and music. Linguists have long found that the world’s languages share many common features, termed “universals.” These features encompass the syntactic structure of languages (e.g., word order) as well as finer acoustic patterns of speech, such as the timing, pitch, and stress of utterances. Some theorists, including Noam Chomsky, have postulated that these patterns reflect a “universal grammar” built on innate brain mechanisms that promote and bias language learning. Researchers continue to debate the extent of these innate brain mechanisms, in part because of the potential for cultural propagation to account for universals.

At the same time, vast surveys of zebra finch songs have documented a variety of acoustic patterns found universally across populations. “Because the nature of these universals bears similarity to those in humans and because songbirds learn their vocalizations much in the same way that humans acquire speech and language, we were motivated to test biological predisposition in vocal learning in songbirds,” says Logan James, a PhD student in Sakata’s lab and co-author of the new study.

A buffet of birdsong

In order to isolate biological predispositions, James and Sakata individually tutored young zebra finches with songs consisting of five acoustic elements arranged in every possible sequence. The birds were exposed to each sequence permutation in equal proportion and in a random order. Each finch therefore had to individually “choose” which sequences to produce from this buffet of birdsong.

In the end, the patterns that the laboratory-raised birds preferred to produce were highly similar to those observed in natural populations of birds. For example, like wild zebra finches, birds tutored with randomized sequences often placed a “distance call” — a long, low-pitched vocalization — at the end of their song.

Other sounds were much more likely to appear in the beginning or middle of the song; for example, short and high-pitched vocalizations were more likely to be produced in the middle of song than at the beginning or end of song. This matches patterns observed across diverse languages and in music, in which sounds at the end of phrases tend to be longer and lower in pitch than sounds in the middle.

Future research avenues

“These findings have important contributions for our understanding of human speech and music,” says Caroline Palmer, a Professor of Psychology at McGill who was not involved in the study. “The research, which controls the birds’ learning environment in ways that are not possible with young children, suggests that statistical learning alone — the degree to which one is exposed to specific acoustic patterns — cannot account for song (or speech) preferences. Other principles, such as universal grammars and perceptual organization, are more likely to account for why human infants as well as juvenile birds are predisposed to prefer some auditory patterns.”

Sakata, who is also a member of the Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM), says the study opens up many avenues of future work for his team with speech, language, and music researchers. “In the immediate future,” he says, “we want to reveal how auditory processing mechanisms in the brain, as well as aspects of motor learning and control, underlie these learning biases.”

Denise Klein, Director of the CRBLM and neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute, says James’ and Sakata’s study “provides insights on universals of vocal communication, helping to advance our understanding of the neurobiological bases of speech and music.”

Pacific island Vatuvara wildlife survey


This 2017 video from Fiji is called Vatuvara Private Islands.

From BirdLife:

22 Nov 2017

Exploring the untouched island of Vatuvara

This is the first time a full biological survey has ever been performed on this remote, almost untouched island in the South Pacific. The intriguing and fascinating results have redoubled the Vatuvara Foundation’s efforts to safeguard this lush wildlife haven.

By Steve Cranwell

The island of Vatuvara perfectly embodies the intrigue and beauty of the South Pacific islands. Located in the north of Fiji’s Lau group, the 800-hectare island has been uninhabited for most of human history. This is due in part to the absence of a permanent water source – but the sharp, unforgiving coral terrain certainly doesn’t help.

For a time, the island hosted a fortified village atop the 300-metre summit – no doubt a strategic lookout point for Fijian warriors. But apart from a desperate attempt at coconut production during Fiji’s plantation era, Vatuvara has largely been spared the impacts of human influence. And that includes many invasive species common on other South Pacific islands – making Vatuvara an invaluable refuge for wildlife.

Despite the detailed knowledge of the indigenous Fijians, practically the only formal scientific account of the island comes from the remarkable Whitney Expeditions, which visited Fiji in 1924, identifying the endemic Fiji Banded Iguana Brachylophus fasciatus among other native flora and fauna species.

Now under the care of Vatuvara Private Islands, the island is protected as a nature reserve. In November, BirdLife International Pacific, together with NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (BirdLife in Fiji) and the US Geological Survey, joined the Vatuvara Foundation to conduct a pioneering four-day survey.

The survey initially focused on the island’s reptiles, in particular the Banded Iguana – currently threatened with extinction – and a snake, the Pacific Boa Candoia bibroni. During the night, several sleeping reptiles were stealthily extracted from the branches above for identification.

Coconut crabs Birgus latro proved to be a very visible part of the island fauna. Although active throughout the day, it was at night that the forest came alive to a slow, deliberate dance as the world’s largest arthropods (weighing up to 4kg and a metre from leg to leg) shuffled about the forest floor, or climbed trees and vertical rock faces in search of sustenance. Once common throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans, these unique, long lived terrestrial crabs, who can survive for 40-60 years, are under threat. Considered a local delicacy, crab populations are now increasingly confined to remote inaccessible islands or locally protected areas.

Vatuvara is an island for birds. Dawn and dusk resounded to a cacophony of calls as the Wattled Honeyeater Foulehaio carunculatus, along with the 20 other species we identified, made their presence known. Almost all were forest birds, a validation of the quality of Vatuvara’s forest. A particularly encouraging sighting was the Shy Ground Dove Alopecoenas stairi, threatened with extinction elsewhere due to introduced predators such as feral cats and rats.

In terms of invasive species, no evidence of cats, pigs, goats, Black rats Rattus rattus, mongoose, invasive ants or any of Fiji’s usual suspects could be found. However, the Pacific rat Rattus exulans was present. This non-native rat predates small birds and their eggs, as well as many of Fiji’s invertebrates and fauna.

All good surveys pose as many questions as they answer, and something of a surprise for Vatuvara was the notable absence of seabirds, generating numerous hypotheses, including what influence Coconut Crabs may pose. Ornithologist Vilikesa Masibalavu also noted an unusual phenomenon among the Island’s Fiji Whistlers Pachycephala vitiensis. They weren’t hard to find – but they were strangely silent, and not a single male could be found.

While much still remains to be discovered on Vatuvara, the survey highlighted the Island’s vital importance to Fiji’s natural history. It was found to hold a wealth of diverse native plants and wildlife increasingly under threat on other islands. Future work will build on this baseline, tracking trends in birds, coconut crabs and reptiles and ensuring harmful invasive species don’t establish. In protecting the island, the Vatuvara Foundation have made a visionary commitment to safeguarding a crucial haven for Fiji’s wildlife.

European green woodpecker in Sweden


This video shows a European green woodpecker in Sweden.

Goldeneyes in Sweden, video


This video shows goldeneyes in Sweden; with white-backed woodpecker sound in the background.