Variation in vocal production learning across songbirds

William A. Searcy, Jill Soha, Susan Peters, Stephen Nowicki

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Songbirds as a whole are considered to be vocal production learners, meaning that they modify the structure of their vocalizations as a result of experience with the vocalizations of others. The more than 4000 species of songbirds, however, vary greatly in crucial features of song development. Variable features include: (i) the normality of the songs of early-deafened birds, reflecting the importance of innate motor programmes in song development; (ii) the normality of the songs of isolation-reared birds, reflecting the combined importance of innate auditory templates and motor programmes; (iii) the degree of selectivity in choice of external models; (iv) the accuracy of copying from external models; and (v) whether or not learning from external models continues into adulthood. We suggest that because of this variability, some songbird species, specifically those that are able to develop songs in the normal range without exposure to external models, can be classified as limited vocal learners. Those species that require exposure to external models to develop songs in the normal range can be considered complex vocal learners. This article is part of the theme issue 'Vocal learning in animals and humans'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20200257
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1836
StatePublished - Oct 25 2021


  • birdsong
  • song learning
  • songbirds
  • vocal learning
  • vocal production learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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