Developmental overproduction and selective attrition: new processes in the epigenesis of birdsong

Dev Psychobiol. 1982 Jul;15(4):369-78. doi: 10.1002/dev.420150409.


All phases of song development from infancy to adulthood were studied intensively in a group of laboratory-reared birds. Male swamp sparrows, Melospiza georgiana, trained with tape-recorded songs in infancy, developed song some 8 months later, averaging 2.2 song types per bird. Analysis of the intermediate stage of plastic song revealed that the birds generated 4 to 5 times more song material than was needed for the species-specific song repertoire. The excess was discarded at the time of full song crystallization. Indications that the attrition process is selective include tendencies to retain imitated rather than nonimitated elements, and the rejection of heterospecific elements. Attrition may also be influenced by vocal stimulation at the time of song crystallization, providing an opportunity for behavioral adjustment even though new themes can no longer be learned. Attrition has been described in the transition in human infants from babbling to speech.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Species Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Vocalization, Animal*