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Proc Biol Sci. 2004 Mar 7;271(1538):483-91.

Motor mechanisms of a vocal mimic: implications for birdsong production.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, 1001 East Third Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


The diverse vocal performances of oscine songbirds are produced by the independent but coordinated patterns of activity in muscles controlling separate sound generators on the left and right sides of their duplex vocal organ, the syrinx. Species with different song styles use the two sides of their syrinx in different ways to produce their species-typical songs. Understanding how a vocal mimic copies another species' song may provide an insight into whether there are alternative motor mechanisms for generating the model's song and what parts of his song are most difficult to produce. We show here that when a vocal mimic, the northern mockingbird, accurately copies the song of another species it also uses the vocal motor pattern employed by the model species. Deviations from the model's production mechanism result in predictable differences in the mockingbird's song. Species-specific acoustic features of the model seem most difficult to copy, suggesting that they have been exposed to the strongest selective pressure to maximize their performance.

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