Bird Intelligence:
Green Rumped Parrotlet

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How well do you know your own name? It is a vital part of your human identity, one of the first words you learned, and the first thing you share when making a new acquaintance.

But consider the magical possibility that in trees all around you, birds could also be singing their own names! Amazing as it may sound, new research suggests that each bird learns its own unique vocal signature from its parents, and uses it in daily communication.

It has long been known that birds learn their songs. But details of even simple chirps are modulated above the range of human hearing. Insight into bird vocalizations requires computer programs able to convert birdcalls into spectrographic pictures.

  Green Rumped Parrotlet

In an experiment that has been running for over 25 years, Venezuelan researchers have recorded generations of over 8,500 young parrotlets. This huge body of data has allowed researchers to conclude that young parrotlets develop unique vocal signatures that are learned from their parents. Moreover, the parents often repeat the young birds names along with their own to identify themselves -- the same kind of intimate communication that takes place in a human family. The parrots use their given names throughout their lives to mate, defend territory, and recognize their enemies as individuals -- communication that has been going on unnoticed by humans for millions of years. Unrelated research shows that dolphins also have vocal signatures that may serve as names in exactly the same way. And there may far more to these conversations that we simply don't understand.

How much have you been missing? Try listening to these chirps at different speeds, Then download RAVEN for yourself for Cornell Ornithology lab -- it's free! With a little practice, you find yourself on a first-name basis with some of the birds in your own neighborhood.

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