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Birds Raised by Other Species Use 'Password' to Recognize Their Own Kind

Cowbirds outsource parenting to other species, but an innate password tells their children to copy cowbird songs. Chicago's Sarah London, Illinois' Mark Hauber and Tokyo's Matthew Louder discovered this "password" call, that cowbirds know innately.

(Inside Science) -- Most songbirds learn to sing by copying songs they hear around them. But young brown-headed cowbirds face a problem: they aren't raised by their own kind. Female cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of more than 100 different kinds of birds, foisting the work of chick-rearing onto unwitting foster-parents.

Now, a new paper describes how the cowbird chicks may learn to recognize and sing their own species’ songs.

"We kind of opened the paper with this existential question," said Sarah London, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago. "How do you know who you are if no one's shown you who you are?"

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Publication Date: 11/14/2019
Photo credits: J-BRIDGE/Shutterstock via insidescience.org
Editor: Nala Rogers, Staff Writer