Where we learn I’m terrible at growing plants, but pretty awesome at growing birds.
With high hopes, I hung this
dried out dead plant to get a little sun, and in about two days, a robin made a tidy little nest. Within two weeks, four birds hatched. Since I’m coming fresh off of a avian brain project, I’m especially interested in these little guys. What’s amazing in general are the simarlarities (both structural/functional noted in the vision and speech areas) of the avian and human brains, for instance the “…many behavioural and neural parallels between birdsongs and human speech”. Via However, unlike humans, songbirds go from babbling to song using independent, but overlapping pathways that work together (or not -for experimental purposes) during different life stages. Notice the avian brain lacks a corpus callosum connecting the left & right hemispsheres, so the neural pathways go contralateral and vertical. (That’s amazing.)
For most of the 20th century, “bird brain” has been used as an insult. Noting the stark structural differences between human and bird brains, anatomists concluded that birds are essentially flying reptiles. Their minds were too tiny for thought. But in recent years, scientists have discovered that the bird brain doesn’t deserve its reputation. Via
The first aspect of bird intelligence scientists studied was birdsong. Charles Darwin compared the early vocalizations of young songbirds with the babbling of human infants, noting that both species went through a period of intense vocal learning. In the early 1970s, Fernando Nottebohm, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University, wanted to understand how certain songbirds managed to learn new melodies every year. As Nottebohm notes, birds are the only other species that “attempts vocally to do anything like what we do.” Perhaps, he wondered, the impressive learning abilities of songbirds could be used to understand aspects of the human mind.
Nottebohm’s search for the source of birdsong led him to discover something entirely unexpected. In order for birds to learn new songs, they have to generate new brain cells. At the time, this was a radical idea. Neuroscientists believed that virtually all animal brains - and certainly the human brain - stopped creating new brain cells shortly after birth. But Nottebohm showed that up to 1 percent of the neurons in the song center of their brains were created anew, every day. Via
So, in a crucial time crunch, these little guys will have a burst of song learning and crystallization (either inducing neurogenesis, or being a product of it). Some of the experiments over the last year I’ve worked on surround this question, highlighting factors that effect neural counts within certain nuclei in the brain. It’s really amazing what these little guys do.
Image credit 1, 2