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South American songbird hailed as ‘pop star’ of the animal kingdom

The birds' notes now rival those of "Queen of Christmas" Mariah Carey.

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Common nightingale Luscinia, megarhynchos on spring migration at stop-over searching for insects on ground Flash lit Malta, Mediterranean
(Oakland Images via Shutterstock)

by Mark Waghorn via SWNS

A South American songbird has been hailed as the "pop star" of the animal kingdom.

It is as good as professional musicians when it comes to keeping time, scientists said.

The scaly-breasted wren, also found in Central America, is known for its whistle-like chirps.

Now recordings in the wild have shown the loud, clear tones rival those of "Queen of Christmas" Mariah Carey.

It hits high notes in an identifiable pattern - an opening blast followed by alternating intervals of silence.

Pauses between each sound get progressively longer, said lead author Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Saltos.

He explained: "It is a really remarkable change from short intervals to long intervals in the same song."


The gaps grow in a predictable way - lengthening by about a half second each time.

After reaching about ten seconds, the small brown bird then repeats its song from the top.

Lab experiments show most animals - including humans - have difficulty determining how much time has passed after just a second or two.

In general, the longer an interval of time, the worse animals are at estimating its passage.

But for the wild wrens, almost half of the songs evaluated consistently (43 percent) kept time for the duration.

Intervals held the established pattern even as pauses increased in length.

In some cases, accuracy was better than professional musicians.

Younger wrens learn by mimicking more experienced individuals, Dr. Rodriguez-Saltos said.

Some recordings were made by the University of Texas team in Ecuador. Others were uploaded online by birdwatchers across the world.

They were compared with data on timing in animals from other studies.

Prof. Susan Healy, a bird behavior expert at the University of St Andrews who was not involved in the study, believes it has implications for the mating displays of wrens.

She said: "If females are especially interested in a male's ability not just to produce the right notes but also the timing of their production, then the pressure is on."

Rodriguez-Saltos became familiar with the song of the wren as an undergraduate student in Ecuador.

His ecology professor taught him how to identify the distinct pattern among the din of rainforest sounds.

Years later, he realized the unique pauses presented an opportunity to delve into the bird's amazing time-tracking abilities.

The scaly-breasted wren, also found in Central America, is known for its whistle-like chirps. (Photo via SWNS)

The results in Animal Behavior underline the importance of studying animals in both the lab and in nature, said Rodriguez-Saltos.

He added: "We should use the power of biodiversity to understand these things while we still can."

Co-author Prof. Julia Clarke said the research demonstrates the importance of turning to nature to study birds in their natural environments.

She said: "We take wild birds for granted, and natural populations are dwindling, so this is urgent.

"This case shows how studying birds can provide huge new insights into cognition and timekeeping."

Mariah Carey is known for belting out songs in the "whistle register" - the highest in the human range.

She can hold a note for up to 15 seconds. Other artists with the gift include Ariana Grande and Christina Aguilera.

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