New research has cemented the nearly unmatched singing skills of birds, as it has discovered that cockatiels are able to spontaneously join human hissing with near-perfect synchronicity. Besides being more than adorable, research shows that these birds are truly masters of their singing voices, able to change pitch and rhythm to effectively riffle with an entirely different species.
Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study tested three hand-raised cockatiels to see if these birds could sing “in unison” with a person whistling a melody, or at least synchronize their song in response. . Each of the three birds successfully learned to sing a walking sound as the researchers whistled a melody similar to the âMickey Mouse Club Walkâ.
This particular song is made up of two parts, each made up of 11 notes but separated by a pause. While all of the birds learned the song, only two of them spontaneously began to sing in unison with the whistle (as seen in the phenomenal recording below).
The next step used the help of a play loop, to see if changing the length of time between worms changed the pace with which the cockatiels sang. Effectively, the birds were able to adapt their song to stay in sync with the changes in pause length, pitch, and tempo, allowing them to follow what they surely thought was a banger, judging by their enthusiasm.
“I didn’t give the birds any treats to reward them for singing,” study author Yoshimasa Seki, from the psychology department at Aichi University in Japan, told Vice. “They were joining the melody for their own enjoyment and were very happy to do so.”
Seki believes the research is the first published example (to their knowledge) of a non-human animal singing to human music and synchronizing with its changing characteristics. Beyond being a great excuse to dive deep into singing cockatiel videos (some even sing opera), you might be wondering what the academic value of this information is, but Seki believes that learning Singing behavior in non-human animals could provide information on the historical uses of singing in humans.
âSinging was once a form of communication for humans,â they said. âAt one point we started singing more for fun, but by studying these distant ancestors we can improve coordination and group work, even among us humans. “
Interestingly, a similar approach hopes to bring the science of translation closer to communicating with dolphins, but vice versa. The research is focused on the idea that whistled human tongues might share fundamental attributes with dolphin signals, so looking at the two side by side, we might one day crack the cetacean code.