Creating traditions that pass the test of time doesn't require exceptional smarts
Date: June 20, 2018
Source: Duke University
What makes human cultural traditions unique? One common answer is that we are better copycats than other species, which allows us to pass our habits and ways of life down through the generations without losing or forgetting them.
But a new study of birdsong finds that swamp sparrows are good impersonators too. And by faithfully copying the most popular songs, these birds create time-honored song traditions that can be just as long-lasting as human traditions, researchers say.
In fact, swamp sparrow song traditions often last hundreds of years, with some songs going back further than that.
"According to the models, some of the songs could go back as far as the Vikings," said first author Robert Lachlan, a lecturer in psychology at Queen Mary University of London.
The results appear June 20 in the journal Nature Communications.
The slow trill of the swamp sparrow can be heard in marshes and wetlands across eastern and central North America.
A grey-breasted bird with brownish wings, the swamp sparrow attracts mates and defends his territory with songs built from two- to five-note snippets, repeated over and over.