The tuneful behavior of some songbirds parallels that of human musicians. That’s the conclusion presented in a recent paper published by an international team of researchers, among them David Rothenberg, distinguished professor of philosophy and music in NJIT’s Department of Humanities. Other members of the team are from the City University of New York (CUNY), the Freie Universität Berlin and Macquarie University in Australia.
“Temporal regularity increases with repertoire complexity in the Australian pied butcherbird’s song” was published online in Royal Society Open Science, a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal launched in 2014. Founded in England in the 17th century as the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, the Royal Society continues to be one of the most prestigious organizations promoting the discovery of new knowledge across the full spectrum of science.
A Very Musical Species
The pied butcherbird, a very musical species, provided a wealth of intriguing data for analysis by co-author Eathan Janney, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at CUNY’s Hunter College. Janney based his analysis upon years of data collected and also analyzed by violinist and biomusicologist Hollis Taylor of Macquarie University, who has previously published extremely detailed analyses of butcherbird songs. “Since pied butcherbird songs share so many commonalities with human music,” Taylor writes, “this species could possibly revolutionize the way we think about the core values of music.”
In the past, claims that musical principles are integral to birdsong were largely met with skepticism and dismissed as wishful thinking. However, the extensive statistical and objective analysis of the new paper demonstrates that the more complex a bird’s repertoire, the better he or she is at singing in time, rhythmically interacting with other birds much more skillfully than those who know fewer songs. The accompanying video includes a sample of a butcherbird’s solo song, as well as the song of another butcherbird and an Australian magpie.