If the bird outside your window sounds like it's singing a familiar tune, it might not be your imagination. The songs of some birds really do contain musical notes and intervals similar to those found in human music, a new study has found.
Canadian-American composer and music professor Emily Doolittle, working with Austrian and German biologists, discovered intriguing patterns in the song of a common North American songbird called a hermit thrush.
"The hermit thrush is clearly using some of the same ingredients to build its song… that humans use in creating their music," Doolittle told CBC's Quirks & Quarks in an interview that airs Saturday.
Doolittle, who is originally from Nova Scotia, is now a professor of composition in the Department of Music at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Wash.
She said she first became interested in birdsong while she was a visiting student in Amsterdam, and heard a European blackbird singing outside her window one night.
"I was really fascinated by the way short bits of what it's saying sounded a lot like human music," she recalled. She thought she could hear scales and arpeggios.
Like most songbirds, hermit thrushes sing to attract mates and proclaim and defend their territories, and it's mostly the males who sing.