Scientists reveal why Parrots are such great vocal imitators

Do you have a parrot that speaks in an exact tone like you and repeats every word perfectly after you? It is insane in fact, but while you must be wondering how they are able to do that, a group of international scientists led by researchers from Duke University has got the answer.

A study reported in June 24 by the Duke University researchers said that parrots have significant structural differences in their brain that enables them to be vocal imitators – something that earlier studies spanning through 34 years couldn’t find.

Among few creatures, parrots are the ones who are capable of vocal learning. The scientists have discovered that unlike the brains of songbirds and hummingbirds, parrots have structurally different brain that helps them to be better vocal learners. Not just that, besides having defined centers known as “cores” parrots also have “shells” or “outer rings” in their brains that also provokes vocal learning.

The researchers discovered this while investigating the gene expression patters of the parrots.

The shells in question are present in relative bigger forms in the brains of those species of parrots that are familiar for their capability to imitate vocal learning.


Photo Credits: Snowmanradio

The researchers searched for particular gene markers that are known to have specific action in the brains of both humans and songbirds. They tested the brains of eight parrot species – budgerigar, conures, cockatiels,lovebirds, two species of Amazon parrots, a blue and gold macaw, a kea and an African Grey parrot.

Mukta Chakraborty, an Indian origin scientist who is a post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Erich Jarvis, an associate professor of neurobiology at Duke and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator said that “this finding opens up a huge avenue of research in parrots” to know how parrots are “processing the information necessary to copy novel sounds and what underlie imitation of human speech sounds.”

Jarvis who is also a member of the Duke Institute of Brain Sciences teamed up with Claudio Mello of Oregon Health & Science University to release a 2000 study that told that the “core” and “shell” were in fact one large structure.

However, Jarvis had differing views, owing to which he teamed up with University of Maryland’s Steven Brauth and Jarvis’s ex-postdoctoral mate Sarah Durand, to help resolving the situation.

The group of researchers in this new report who were from Denmark and the Netherlands are specifically nosy to discover if the “shells” empower the parrots with greater ability of vocal learning and imitating of human speech.

“If that’s true, then we’ve answered a big question in our field that people have been wanting to know for many years,” Jarvis said in the same report by EurekAlert.

The study has been published in the journal Plos One.

One comment

  1. MITTOO, aka “Mittoo the Poppat”, had been with us for the last 22 years purchased from Crawford market on 27/1/1992 as a baby nestling before the ban on selling of Indian parakeets as pet birds by the Wild life Authorities.
    Mittoo has been the subject of a topic on B.B.C Radio in 2004, a debate on Radio Telephone regarding having PENSIONS for retired circus and animal stars, a true “Bird Celebrity”. It was a 3-Way discussion conducted by a B.B.C moderator in London between Dan Westfall (U.S.A), owner/handler of retired “Tarzan of the Apes” film chimp “Cheetah”, Mr. Martin Lacey (U.K), animal trainer and owner of Great British Circus and myself Rudolph A. Furtado (Mumbai) the pet owner of Mittoo, India’s best talking parakeet.””Mittoo” expired mysteriously on Monday(10-3-2014) while i was on a travel sojourn to Bhutan.He was my non-human son who shared my life for 22 long years and now lives in my living room through the art of Taxidermy and on the “Internet” as a ” Mascot” on the sports speculation game titled “MITTOO ALIAS MITTOO THE POPPAT”. He was a excellent “Human Mimic” and i have his recordings and video’s on “Youtube” as also his biography. Researchers interested in “Alexandrine Parakeet” intelligence can google his “Alexandrine parakeet Mittoo” and gain access to this amusin bird which was child-like in behaviour and speech.

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