An Australian bird called the chestnut-crowned babbler communicates with the help of a simple language, researchers claim. The gregarious bird uses different sounds that, when combined, produce a meaningful message for other members of its species.
Scientists from the University of Zurich and University of Exeter studied the different noises made by the chestnut-crowned babbler. The scientists noticed that individual sounds were meaningless, but combined sounds conveyed a specific message. “Although previous studies indicate that animals, particularly birds, are capable of stringing different sounds together as part of a complex song, these songs generally lack a specific meaning and changing the arrangement of sounds within a song does not seem to alter its overall message," lead author Sabrina Engesser said in a statement.
Engesser further revealed that the chestnut-crowned babbler does not sing. However, its vocal repertoire consists of a discrete call composed of several distinct individual calls or sounds.
Co-author Andy Russell believes that whenever the bird wants to convey a different meaning, it just rearranges the existing individual sounds rather than creating a new sound. This way, the bird practices a quicker way of conveying a new message.
The researchers identified the two distinct sounds as “A” and “B.” During the study, they found that the bird uses different arrangements of the sounds while performing different actions. For example, while flying, the bird produces a call in the pattern “AB,” and while feeding chicks, it produces a “BAB” call.
"This is the first time that the capacity to generate new meaning from rearranging meaningless elements has been shown to exist outside of humans,” co-author Simon Townsend said.
The complete study has been published in the journal PLOS Biology.