(NaturalNews) Just like human infants, baby birds also babble before mastering complex verbal communication, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and published in the journal Science. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Herz Foundation and Friends of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research.
"Birds start out by babbling, just as humans do," said researcher Michale S. Fee.
While adult bird song is highly structured and individualized, baby zebra finches start out by making a seemingly random collection of vocalizations constantly. This parallels the pattern seen in other kinds of learning, in which juvenile animals might move their limbs around before learning to walk, and highlights the importance of play in the learning process.
"The parallels between human and bird language are indeed striking," said Bob McMurray, a psychology professor from the University of Iowa, who was not involved in the study. "This work illustrates that language learning may operate by very general principles ... that can be seen across species as different as finches and humans."
When the researchers examined the brains of the young finches, they found that the LMAN - the portion of the brain that was active for the birds' 30-45 day babbling period - ceased its activity when adult song began. Song was instead regulated by the high vocal center (HVC).
When the researchers damaged the HVC in the animals' brains, they observed the LMAN become active again. The birds became unable to sing and instead started babbling again.
Fee noted that the disabling of the LMAN once song is learned might point to a difference in the learning process between finches and humans.
"In birds, the exploratory phase ends when learning is complete. But we humans can always call upon our equivalent of LMAN, the prefrontal cortex, to be innovative and learn new things."