The adult male zebra finch knows only one scratchy tune learned in its youth, which it performs repeatedly and intensely when females are listening. But occasionally, the finch might improvise, experimenting with a slower, more sultry variation or emphasizing different notes.
Neurobiologists studying the finch now say the improvisation arises from a component of a crucial learning circuit in a section of the forebrain that seems to generate the trial and error necessary to master sophisticated motor skills, such as singing in birds or speech and sports in humans.
"It means this part of the brain is important for instructing or allowing changes in the song," said Mimi Kao, first author of a paper in the February 10, 2005, issue of the journal Nature that demonstrates how the region modulates bird song in real time. Kao, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) predoctoral fellow, is in the final months of her doctoral training in the laboratory of co-author Allison Doupe at the University of California, San Franciscos Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience.
Jennifer Donovan | EurekAlert!
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