Just recently my niece produced a lovey little girl, the most amazing and exhilarating thing that can happen on a given day. The wee one was breech, which means that she was turned in such a way she would never have made it down the birth canal. So, the doctors suggested that my nephew call out to his daughter, coax her into position through the fabrics, skin and membrane. It would have worked if the wee-one was not so zaftig and had a bit more room to maneuver. Mother and daughter are deliriously happy with each other now that they are physically detached from each other post the needed Cesarean procedure.
So while my niece and nephew were calling to their daughter to move her little-not-so-little body, zebra finches were singing to their eggs to prepare their chicks for very hot and dry weather. Are the striped birds really preparing to survive global warming already while I have not even managed an energy audit of my house?
I have no idea how birds possess the kind of knowledge that is needed to weigh all of the potentials and possibilities, sensing the many what ifs that living in nature requires. And yet somehow, the birds know. Occasionally, we have a chance to absorb an example of this. At what point did the zebra finches decide that it was time to start to sing to their eggs? When was it hot enough that it required a change in their behavior?
The science of this was released this past week. Take a look for yourself at BBC’s wrap-up www.bbc.com or the article in the Science Magazine http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/video-zebra-finch-call-prepares-their-eggs-climate-change.
The researchers learned that the parent birds sung to their chicks in order to prepare the babies for the type of development that ensured the best chance of survival. The chicks that had been sung to, did not develop as quickly, were smaller, did not eat as much, all general signs of a conservative development. Normally, these traits would not be viewed as a good thing for survival. Nature would encourage a baby bird to eat as much as it could and grow strong fast, but in an environment of less, that may not be an asset.
While looking for the science behind this information, several other stories popped up about how birds sing to their eggs for other reasons; again all instructions and preparations. I remember when it became a ‘thing’ to play certain music to your child during the nine months, then there were suggestions of books to read aloud all in prep for the brain, lubricating something that was just developing.
Birds learn the sounds of their parents while in the egg just as babies do. For the bird it is a matter of survival; the need to learn the sound of the parent voice to differentiate against predators. For a child it is the same. I am constantly amazed at how alike life is for all forms, when it is examined very closely.