The Budgie Lab


The Budgerigar

The budgie, short for budgerigar, is a parrot species that is native to Australia, and prefers a dry desert climate. Wild budgies are nomadic, and follow rainfall to find fresh grass seeds. However, they have been brought over to Europe, bred, and kept as pets for over one hundred years.

Acoustic Perception & Production

Budgies and humans are vocal learners. Vocal learners are species that require exposure to vocalizing conspecifics in order to learn their vocalizations. Among primates, vocal learning is found only in humans, and is not a very common trait in the animal kingdom. Both budgies and humans are also vocal mimics, a subgroup of vocal learners. Vocal mimics can also mimic heterospecific and environmental sounds in addition to learning from conspecifics. As a result, their vocal production is based heavily in their auditory perception.

Recently, it has also been shown that budgies, like Snowball the cockatoo, can synchronize with a beat. Synchronizing with a beat requires an animal to process auditory input and coordinate their bodily movements so that they match that input and, like vocal learning, is also not very widespread in the animal kingdom.

Budgies also have excellent pitch perception, where they can accurately identify frequencies to a much finer degree than at least most humans (rare people with absolute pitch performed similarly on pitch discrimination tasks). They also can identify different vowel sounds in human speech, and are experts in general at detecting spectral changes.

As such, budgies are a species that we would expect to perform at least as well as humans on any perceptual acoustic task. We have initiated several studies directly comparing these two species.

Research

The budgie lab was founded in February 2013, and is still in its infancy. We have begun training the budgies to discriminate sounds in an operant chamber. We also have other acoustic and behavioral experiments planned. Right now we have 8 birds (pictured above), but we are planning to expand as the lab grows.