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Song development in birds: the role of early experience and its potential effect on rehabilitation success

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Environmental conditions during the early life stages of birds can have significant effects on the quality of sexual signals in adulthood, especially song, and these ultimately have consequences for breeding success and fitness. This has wide-ranging implications for the rehabilitation protocols undertaken in wildlife hospitals which aim to return captive-reared animals to their natural habitat. Here we review the current literature on bird song development and learning in order to determine the potential impact that the rearing of juvenile songbirds in captivity can have on rehabilitation success. We quantify the effects of reduced learning on song structure and relate this to the possible effects on an individual's ability to defend a territory or attract a mate. We show the importance of providing a conspecific auditory model for birds to learn from in the early stages post-fledging, either via live- or tape-tutoring and provide suggestions for tutoring regimes. We also highlight the historical focus on learning in a few model species that has left an information gap in our knowledge for most species reared at wildlife hospitals.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2007

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