Drunk birds and science, not a great combination. Just like drunk humans and karaoke bars. But like all experiments, it starts with a wacky idea. No one would have thought that inebriated birds could actually “say” something meaningful; not to their comrades of course but to scientist and even the human race.
Apparently humans are not the only species who under the influence of alcohol have a different behavior. Birds don’t drunk dial their exes but they do struggle with speech. Researchers found that inebriated zebra finches slur their “words” and are more disorganized, even a bit quieter than usual. The paper was published last week in PLOS ONE.
In their pursuit of understanding how alcohol causes vocal impairment, researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University appealed to the next best thing – birds. According to a recent study there are genes found in both species that help birds learn to sing and humans to talk. As it is difficult to study the human brain and its development in different stages and conditions, scientist decided to use zebra finches.
One of the researchers, Christopher Olson gave more details regarding the study’s phases. The first step was to combine 6 percent alcohol with juice and place it in their water bottles, in their cages. At first they were worried the birds would not consume the mix willingly but according to Olson “they seem to tolerate it pretty well and be somewhat willing to consume it”.
Even in their natural habitats birds do sometimes decide to “take it down a notch” and get tipsy by eating fermented berries.
After consuming the spiked juice, the finches’ blood-alcohol level was somewhere between 05 to .08 percent. A human with the same concentration of alcohol in his blood will surely become more talkative. In a similar inebriated state the finches became “a bit less organized in their sound production”, according to Olson.
The scientists noticed that after alcohol intake, what changed in birds’ songs were the amplitude which was now lower and the entropy which increased. That means that the songs became less agitated but disorganized.
The team also noticed that only some acoustic structures in the birds’ songs were modified. Specific syllables that form those structures became distorted. This could mean that only certain parts of the brain are affected by alcohol intake, resulting in the distortion of sounds created by that cerebral area.
Additional studies will have to be conducted on this matter. Scientists want to further explore the long-term effects of alcohol consumption and whether it can hinder young birds from learning new songs.
Image Source: Scientific American Blog