Vertical transmission of learned signatures in a wild parrot

Karl S. Berg, Soraya Delgado, Kathryn A. Cortopassi, Steven R. Beissinger, Jack W. Bradbury

Abstract

Learned birdsong is a widely used animal model for understanding the acquisition of human speech. Male songbirds often learn songs from adult males during sensitive periods early in life, and sing to attract mates and defend territories. In presumably all of the 350+ parrot species, individuals of both sexes commonly learn vocal signals throughout life to satisfy a wide variety of social functions. Despite intriguing parallels with humans, there have been no experimental studies demonstrating learned vocal production in wild parrots. We studied contact call learning in video-rigged nests of a well-known marked population of green-rumped parrotlets (Forpus passerinus) in Venezuela. Both sexes of naive nestlings developed individually unique contact calls in the nest, and we demonstrate experimentally that signature attributes are learned from both primary care-givers. This represents the first experimental evidence for the mechanisms underlying the transmission of a socially acquired trait in a wild parrot population.

  • Received May 4, 2011.
  • Accepted June 16, 2011.
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