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When it Comes to Singing, Birds Are a Lot Like Us

Birds are more like people than we may suspect, and their songs prove it. Studies have revealed common musical patterns that stretch across different human cultures. These common traits may come from constraints to the way people sing, and researchers have determined this from studying song birds.

Researcher Frank Russo says, "We were intrigued by certain widespread features of human song melody across different cultures and genres of music, whether it was Italian opera or music from northern India. “We wanted to test the idea to see if this was due to the mechanics of how we produce sound." Russo's team examined a database of almost 10,000 folk songs from 32 geographic locations worldwide for common musical patterns such as melodic arches and lengthening the final note after each musical phrase.
The researchers then compiled sample recordings of birdsongs from 54 songbird families, to examine similar vocal patterns that appeared in humans, and found that humans and birds, who share some similar vocal constraints on sound production, create similar music.

Researcher Adam Tierney says, "This melodic arch comes from how people breathe when they sing. People take a breath, sing while exhaling, and then take another breath. Song birds also sing while exhaling, but when they take a breath, they do so between each note."

Researcher Aniruddh Patel says this finding is very surprising. "The evolution of humans and birds is thought to have diverged some 250 million years ago. So when you discover common behavior in two species that are so distinctly removed, this is very unusual."

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