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You can teach an old bird new tricks – but only if they want to learn

Spreads for web Parrots 278 4

By GrrlScientist Senior Contributor at Forbes, evolutionary & behavioural ecologist, ornithologist & science writer

Language learning becomes more challenging for people as we age. Children learn languages easily, but this facility begins to decline when we reach our twenties and beyond. Why?

To better understand the nuances of language learning in humans, a team of scientists at New Mexico State University (NMSU) is studying vocal learning in budgerigars. This team of researchers recently reported an interesting finding, learning new vocalisations may depend on an individual budgerigar’s ability and motivation to make new friends.

I think a much more concise title for this study would be “You Can Teach an Old Bird New Tricks, But Only If They Want to Learn,” said Timothy Wright, a Biology Professor at NMSU. Professor Wright’s areas of expertise include the evolution of vocal learning and communication signals amongst birds, with a particular focus on parrots because their well-developed learning abilities provide interesting contrasts in behaviour, ecology, and life history patterns to better-studied songbirds. “Our study was one in which we contrasted the ability of young adult budgerigars and old adult budgerigars to learn new vocalisations when put into a new social situation,” Professor Wright explained.

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