Research Article

Dynamics of the Vocal Imitation Process: How a Zebra Finch Learns Its Song

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  30 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5513, pp. 2564-2569
DOI: 10.1126/science.1058522

You are currently viewing the abstract.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution


Song imitation in birds provides good material for studying the basic biology of vocal learning. Techniques were developed for inducing the rapid onset of song imitation in young zebra finches and for tracking trajectories of vocal change over a 7-week period until a match to a model song was achieved. Exposure to a model song induced the prompt generation of repeated structured sounds (prototypes) followed by a slow transition from repetitive to serial delivery of syllables. Tracking this transition revealed two phenomena: (i) Imitations of dissimilar sounds can emerge from successive renditions of the same prototype, and (ii) developmental trajectories for some sounds followed paths of increasing acoustic mismatch until an abrupt correction occurred by period doubling. These dynamics are likely to reflect underlying neural and articulatory constraints on the production and imitation of sounds.

  • * All authors contributed equally to this work.

  • To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: tcherno{at}

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science