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Song development in birds: the role of early experience and its potential effect on rehabilitation success

By K. A. Spencer, S. Harris, P. J. Baker, I. C. Cuthill

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Environmental conditions during the early life stages of birds can have significant effects on the quality of sexual signals in adulthood, especially song, and these ultimately have consequences for breeding success and fitness. This has wide-ranging implications for the rehabilitation protocols undertaken in wildlife hospitals which aim to return captive-reared animals to their natural habitat. Here we review the current literature on bird song development and learning in order to determine the potential impact that the rearing of juvenile songbirds in captivity can have on rehabilitation success. We quantify the effects of reduced learning on song structure and relate this to the possible effects on an individual's ability to defend a territory or attract a mate. We show the importance of providing a conspecific auditory model for birds to learn from in the early stages post-fledging, either via live- or tape-tutoring and provide suggestions for tutoring regimes. We also highlight the historical focus on learning in a few model species that has left an information gap in our knowledge for most species reared at wildlife hospitals.

Date 2007
Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 16
Issue 1
Pages 1-13
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Language English
Author Address Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal rights
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Biological resources
  4. Birds
  5. Environment
  6. Fitness
  7. Hospitals
  8. Life
  9. peer-reviewed
  10. Physiology and biochemistry
  11. quality
  12. Wild animals
  13. wildlife
  14. Zoology
  1. peer-reviewed