Ward, Z., Upton, C., Iyer, M., and Williams, H. (2023) Physiological constraints and cognitive chunking: Sequence organization in the songs of zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). J. Comp.
The researchers asked whether zebra finches organize their songs around physiological constraints (pausing to take a breath) or cognitive factors (grouping syllables learned from the same tutor). Songs stopped short of the normal end point after long, loud syllables when longer pauses for breathing normally occur. But when songs started in the middle of the normal sequence, that start point corresponded to the beginning of a set of syllables learned as a unit from a tutor. They found that the birds organize and sing their songs based not only on respiratory physiology but also on linked sequences of syllables that were heard and memorized during song learning.