The language of birds is also organized, like that of humans

Human beings are not the only animals capable of communicating through language. Other mammals and birds also have specific sounds for certain situations. The language of the birds, in addition, also has an order.

Some serve, for example, to warn the group of the presence of threats or to report a food source. Some monkeys even have different sounds (words, after all) for each type of predator and others are capable of using suffixes. However, to build a complex language that is not enough. It also requires the syntax, the rules that allow combining words; in short, an order. These rules are a fundamental ingredient of the human language since it allows to construct messages full of information with a small number of words.

Well, for the first time a scientific study has shown the presence of syntactic rules in an animal language. In addition, it has decipher the language of a small Japanese bird. And it is that animal communication does not stop surprising us.

The language of birds, in examples: The blue tit

The protagonist of the work, published in Nature Communications, is a little bird calledParus minoror Japanese blue tit. The research group, from different universities around the world, has discovered that in their language they usefour kinds of sounds, which we will call A, B, C and D. Sounds that this birdcombines to give rise to complex messages.

The first three sounds are used when there are predators or dangers nearby and mean: be careful! The sound D, however, is used when finding food or looking for a partner, and its meaning will be: come here! Well, the researchers observed that the blue tit combines these two types of sound in AC-D, BC-D or ABC-D forms. They use this when they decide to add strength and drive away the predator. We could translate it, therefore, as: Danger, for him!

To verify that these translations are correct, the scientists recorded and reproduced the different sounds. They saw that, when the first three sounded, the birds quickly turned their heads to the right and left analyzing the surroundings, whereas with the D sound the reaction was that of approach the speaker. In this way, with the message ABC-D, the blue tit analyzed the surroundings and then approached the loudspeaker. However, when the message was inverted and the D-ABC sound was generated, hardly any reaction occurred.

The language of the birds: They also have syntax

This is the conclusion that scientists came to after their study. Firstly, because it seems clear that the meaning of D is not the same when it is alone and when it is accompanied by the other sounds. Furthermore, birds do not analyze each sound separately since if the natural order of the message is reversed (D-ABC) they do not react, that is, they do not understand their meaning. Ace, the order of the sounds is one more ingredient in the language of the birds, and specifically in the species of Japanese blue tit.

As for humans, communication is essential for small birds to avoid predator attacks and to find food. Thus, throughout evolution the appearance of this type of language has meant for both species a effective survival system based on collaboration between individuals.

Source | Nature Communications