Diurnal oscillation of vocal development associated with clustered singing by juvenile songbirds

J Exp Biol. 2015 Jul;218(Pt 14):2260-8. doi: 10.1242/jeb.115105. Epub 2015 Jun 1.


Spaced practice affects learning efficiency in humans and other animals. However, it is not well understood how spaced practice contributes to learning during development. Here, we show the behavioral significance of singing frequency in song development in a songbird, the zebra finch. Songbirds learn a complex song pattern by trial-and-error vocalizations as self-motivated practice, which is executed over a thousand times per day during the sensitive period of vocal learning. Notably, juveniles generate songs with a high frequency of singing in clusters with dense singing, whereas adults sing with low frequency in short clusters. This juvenile-specific clustered singing was characterized by clear separations of daily time for intense practice and rest. During the epochs of vocal practice in juveniles, the song structure approached that of song produced at the end of the day. In contrast, during the epochs of vocal rest, the structure of juvenile songs regressed toward that of songs produced at the beginning of the day, indicating a dynamic progression and regression of song development over the course of the day. When the singing frequency was manipulated to decrease it at the juvenile stage, the oscillation rate of song development was dramatically reduced. Although the juvenile-specific clustered singing occurred in non-tutored socially isolated birds or those with auditory deprivation, the diurnal oscillation of vocal development was only observed in non-tutored isolated juveniles. These results show the impact of 'self-motivated' vocal practice on diurnal song developmental plasticity, modulated by the amount of vocal output and auditory feedback.

Keywords: Learned vocalization; Self-motivated behavior; Sensorimotor learning; Zebra finch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Female
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Social Isolation
  • Time Factors
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*