Song Perception During the Sensitive Period of Song Learning in Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata)

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The sensitive period is a special time for auditory learning in songbirds. However, little is known about perception and discrimination of song during this period of development. The authors used a go/no-go operant task to compare discrimination of conspecific song from reversed song in juvenile and adult zebra finches(Taeniopygia guttata), and to test for possible developmental changes in perception of syllable structure and syllable syntax. In Experiment 1, there were no age or sex differences in the ability to learn the discrimination, and the birds discriminated the forward from reversed song primarily on the basis of local syllable structure. Similar results were found in Experiment 2 with juvenile birds reared in isolation from song. Experiment 3 found that juvenile zebra finches could discriminate songs on the basis of syllable order alone, although this discrimination was more difficult than one based on syllable structure. The results reveal well-developed song discrimination and song perception in juvenile zebra finches, even in birds with little experience with song.

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