December 29, 2014
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Just as getting drunk can impact a person’s ability (and willingness) to sing, consuming too much alcohol can have a similar effect on some types of birds, researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) have discovered in a new study.
In an interview with NPR on Sunday, Christopher Olson explained how he and his colleagues used zebra finches as part of their research, since the birds have long been used as a model to study vocal learning and communication skills in humans. Since alcohol can have a major impact on the speech patterns of people, they wanted to see if the finches would also be affected.
“We just showed up in the morning and mixed a little bit of juice with 6 percent alcohol, and put it in their water bottles and put it in the cages,” he explained. “At first we were thinking that they wouldn’t drink on their own because, you know, a lot of animals just won’t touch the stuff. But they seem to tolerate it pretty well and be somewhat willing to consume it.”
The blood alcohol content of the birds were measured in the .05 percent to .08 percent range. While those levels would not be enough to make a person become fall-down drunk, it was more than enough to generate the intended effects, since birds metabolize alcohol differently.
An audio recording indicates that the finches’ song becomes quieter and slightly slurred, or as Olson put it, the birds become “a bit less organized in their sound production.” He added that his research team now wants to find out how being drunk changes the way finches learn new songs.