Birdsong, Beauty & Beholder

gettyimages-584502287-2f5c9a0e7238bdb537e001579aa364e2b708aad2-s1100-c85

Getty Images

Thanks as always to Barbara King, who we link to from time to time on topics of simple, natural beauty:

What Do Birds Hear When They Sing Beautiful Songs?

Birdsong is music to human ears.

It has inspired famous composers. For the rest of us, it may uplift the spirit and improve attention or simply be a source of delight, fun and learning.

But have you ever wondered what birds themselves hear when they sing?

After all, we know that other animals’ perceptions don’t always match ours. Anyone who lives with a dog has probably experienced their incredible acute hearing and smell.

Do birds hear their songs as we do?

Psychologists Robert J. Dooling and Nora H. Prior think they’ve found an answer to that question — for, at least, some birds. In an articlepublished online last month in the journal Animal Behaviour, they conclude that “there is an acoustic richness in bird vocalizations that is available to birds but likely out of reach for human listeners.”

Dooling and Prior explain that most scientific investigations of birdsong focus on things like pitch, tempo, complexity, structural organization and the presence of stereotypy. They instead focused on what’s called temporal fine structure and its perception by zebra finches.

Temporal fine structure, they write, “is generally defined as rapid variations in amplitude within the more slowly varying envelope of sound.”

Struggling to fully grasp that definition, I contacted Robert Dooling by email. In his response, he suggested that I think of temporal fine structure as “roughly the difference between voices when they are the same pitch and loudness.” Temporal fine structure is akin, then, to timbre, sometimes defined as “tone color” or, in Dooling’s words, the feature that’s “left between two complex sounds when the pitch and level are equalized.”

Where do the zebra finches come in?…

Read the whole story here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s