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Science. 2005 May 13;308(5724):1046-9.

Freedom and rules: the acquisition and reprogramming of a bird's learned song.

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  • 1Laboratory of Animal Behavior, Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10021, USA.


Canary song is hierarchically structured: Short stereotyped syllables are repeated to form phrases, which in turn are arranged to form songs. This structure occurs even in the songs of young isolates, which suggests that innate rules govern canary song development. However, juveniles that had never heard normal song imitated abnormal synthetic songs with great accuracy, even when the tutor songs lacked phrasing. As the birds matured, imitated songs were reprogrammed to form typical canary phrasing. Thus, imitation and innate song constraints are separate processes that can be segregated in time: freedom in youth, rules in adulthood.

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