Like humans, oscine songbirds exhibit vocal learning. They learn their song by imitating conspecifics, mainly adults. Among them, the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) has been widely used as a model species to study the behavioral, cellular and molecular substrates of vocal learning. Various methods using taped song playback have been used in the laboratory to train young male finches to learn a song. Since different protocols have been applied by different research groups, the efficiency of the studies cannot be directly compared. The purpose of our study was to address this problem. Young finches were raised by their mother alone from day post hatching (dph) 10 and singly isolated from dph 35. One week later, exposure to a song model began, either using a live tutor or taped playback (passive or self-elicited). At dph 100, the birds were transferred to a common aviary. We observed that one-to-one live tutoring is the best method to get a fairly complete imitation. Using self-elicited playback we observed high inter-individual variability; while some finches learned well (including good copying of the song model), others exhibited poor copying. Passive playback resulted in poor imitation of the model. We also observed that finches exhibited vocal changes after dph 100 and that the range of these changes was negatively related to their imitation of the song model. Taken together, these results suggest that social aspects are predominant in the success outcome of song learning in the zebra finch.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.