When it comes to making noise, both parrots and humans rely on extremely specialized vibrating organs in their throats. Now scientists at Indiana University and Leiden University in The Netherlands have shown for the first time that parrots, like humans, also can use their tongues to craft and shape sound.
Monk parakeets are native to South America. Released by their American owners on purpose or by accident, the parakeets have formed stable, feral populations in Florida, Connecticut and New York. Photo by: Kathleen Carr
"This is the first direct evidence that parrots are able to use their large tongues to change the acoustic properties of their vocalizations," said IU Bloomington neurologist Roderick Suthers, who participated in the research. "The basic idea here, we believe, is that motor control of tongue movements is an important part of communication, just as it is in humans."
Its known that to produce sound, a parrot uses its syrinx, a voice box organ nestled between the trachea and lungs. The lingering question has been: What happens to that sound as it moves up and out of the throat? Ornithologists and bird enthusiasts have long noticed that parrots bob their tongues back and forth while they vocalize, but it wasnt known whether the tongue motions contributed significantly to sound-making.
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