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Do birds know one another by names?

  1. May 11, 2012 #1
    Do birds know one another by names?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 11, 2012 #2


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    There is a study that details the transmission of vocal signatures from parent to child, but in the discussion section, the authors vaguely associates it with the function as a name.

    Vertical transmission of learned signatures in a wild parrot
    Karl S. Berg1,2,*, Soraya Delgado1, Kathryn A. Cortopassi1, Steven R. Beissinger3 and Jack W. Bradbury2

  4. May 11, 2012 #3


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    The above paper does seem to be making the claim that these unique signatures function as names, referencing the papers below:

    Wanker R., Apcin J., Jennerjahn B., Waibel B. 1998 Discrimination of different social companions in spectacled parrotlets (Forpus conspicillatus): evidence for individual vocal recognition. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 43, 197–202. (doi:10.1007/s002650050481) CrossRefWeb of Science

    Wanker R., Sugama Y., Prinage S. 2005 Vocal labeling of family members in spectacled parrotlets, Forpus conspicillatus. Anim. Behav. 70, 111–118. (doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.09.022) CrossRefWeb of Science
  5. May 11, 2012 #4
    Thank you, good to know that I am not crazy for thinking that birds of a flock know one another by their names.

    Is it culturally ok for me to email Karl Berg to about it, given that I am not NPB student/researcher and I do not know more biology than what I have left now from BIO 101?
  6. May 11, 2012 #5


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    I suppose that's why they have a correspondence e-mail, so that people can ask them about their work.

    I'm still not sure how socially acceptable it is to say "birds have names", though. It's maybe safer to say that they have something similar to names. Also, I don't know what birds beyond parrots have been shown to demonstrate vertically transmitted unique signatures.
  7. May 11, 2012 #6
    What do you mean by socially unacceptable and unsafe?

    Do you mean that it is offensive to some people, or that it is not academically correct?
  8. May 11, 2012 #7
    Personally when I became aware that birds might know one another by names, it makes me feel really happy and excited. It is like discovering a new alien society right outside my window. It makes me feel that the birds are just like other folks in town and they deserve to have their fair share of their habitat.
  9. May 11, 2012 #8


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    I just mean that it's easy to anthropomorphize. It could just be a matter of coincidence, and not actually be the same thing as a name.
  10. May 11, 2012 #9
    I understand.

    To me, a name is a verbal symbol that a creature associates more-or-less uniquely with itself, so that when a creature wants to communicate to a specific individual within a group, the specific individual will understand that the message is directed to it and not to the others.

    In the paper, "Vertical transmission of learned signatures in a wild parrot", there was no question on whether birds (in the paper, a specific kind of parrot), could recognize names; but who/what mechanism gave them their names.

    My understanding: Karl believed that the parents named their offspring, and the contesting theories are that the parents simply used whatever sound that the offspring responded to, or that the naming process is somewhat of a mix of the two.

    So the question was not whether birds could know their names, but how did they get their names?
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