Send to

Choose Destination
J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2002 Dec;188(11-12):841-50. Epub 2002 Oct 17.

New perspectives on mechanisms of sound generation in songbirds.

Author information

Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.


The physical mechanisms of sound generation in the vocal organ, the syrinx, of songbirds have been investigated mostly with indirect methods. Recent direct endoscopic observation identified vibrations of the labia as the principal sound source. This model suggests sound generation in a pulse-tone mechanism similar to human phonation with the labia forming a pneumatic valve. The classical avian model proposed that vibrations of the thin medial tympaniform membranes are the primary sound generating mechanism. As a direct test of these two hypotheses we ablated the medial tympaniform membranes in two species (cardinal and zebra finch) and found that both were still able to phonate and sing without functional membranes. Small changes in song structure (harmonic emphasis, frequency control) occurred after medial tympaniform membrane ablation and suggest that the medial tympaniform membranes play a role in adjusting tension on the labia. Such a role is consistent with the fact that the medial tympaniform membranes are directly attached to the medial labia. There is no experimental support for a third hypothesis, proposing an aerodynamic model for generation of tonal sounds. Indirect tests (song in heliox atmosphere) as well as direct (labial vibration during tonal sound) measurements of syringeal vibrations support a vibration-based sound-generating mechanism even for tonal sounds.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Springer
Loading ...
Support Center