By Summer Seligmann, C2ST Intern, Loyola University
Before baby birds even begin to observe the world around them, they are already able to learn certain behaviors. Over the last decade, studies on early development of bird communication have shown that learning can begin much earlier than previously thought. In some bird species, song learning starts with an unhatched egg.
Diane Colombelli-Negrel, a behavioral ecologist from Flinders University, did not intend to make this discovery. She was recording bird calls and noticed that mother superb fairy-wrens, a type of small bird from Australia, were singing to their unhatched eggs. After studying this peculiar behavior, researchers found that mother wrens sing to their eggs to teach them a song, and surprisingly, the unhatched birds learn it. The sounds they learn are crucial to their survival after they hatch, especially when dealing with pesky cuckoo birds.