The Discrimination of Temporal Fine Structure in Call-Like Harmonic Sounds by Birds

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Thresholds for discriminating changes in the temporal fine structure of call-like, harmonic sounds were measured in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) and budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus). Birds could detect changes in periods as short as 1.225 ms at near 100% accuracy even when spectral and envelope cues were identical, as in time-reversed stimuli. Humans performed poorly on such stimuli, paralleling results from previous studies. Bird thresholds were in the range of those reported in neurophysiological studies of the songbird high vocal center (HVC) to temporally modified conspecific songs. Taken together, these results show that birds can hear differences in temporal fine structure in their natural vocalizations that go beyond human capabilities, but whether these abilities have communicative relevance remains to be seen.

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