The call of the wild

Research on ability of zebra finches to detect pitch

source: New Scientist December 4 1999 p41

Zebra finches were studied by Ron Weisman from Canada's Queen's University, Ontario, and their ability to detect pitch was tested against that of human musicians. The birds were rewarded with food, and the humans were rewarded with prize money, when they got the answer right. The birds' score was 85% correct answers, compared to the human musicians' score of around a half. Zebra finches can recognise each other by song pitch range, and are able to identify their mates' songs at 100 yards. Humans with absolute pitch, and birds are both often able to change to relative pitch. Birds are trained in pitch while they are youngsters, listening to neighbours and family.