It’s not just humans who teach their offspring the basics of communication with baby-talk.
Research suggests zebra finches do something very similar.
Like many birds, zebra finches learn their songs, at least in part, from their parents.
“Songbirds first listen to and memorise the sound of adult songs and then undergo a period of vocal practice – in essence, babbling – to master the production of song,” said Jon Sakata of McGill University, Montreal, who led the work.
The team found that juvenile birds that had learned their song from a real-life mentor sang better as adults than those who had learned from recordings of adult song.
Further investigation revealed what was going on.
“Adult zebra finches slow down their song by increasing the interval between phrases and repeat individual elements more often when singing to juveniles,” said Sakata.
Juveniles paid more attention to this baby-talk compared with full adult songs, and the more that they paid attention, the better they learned.