Simple device can mimic complex birdsongs

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Songbird

Researchers have developed a new device capable of creating complex birdsongs including those of Zebra and Bengalese finches.

The device developed by Harvard University uses air blown through a stretched rubber tube to recreate birdsongs found in nature. According to scientists the inherent complexity in birdsongs may actually be the result of a simple controllable instability in the structure of the specialised organ used to create song, known as a syrinx.

The study led by L Mahadevan, professor at Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in the US, suggests that birds may have harnessed the physical properties of a soft material to produce and control birdsong.

“Our study adds to the growing realisation that physical instabilities with rich nonlinear dynamics, when coupled to relatively simple control mechanisms, may provide a mechanism for birds to begin to create complex behaviour by taking advantage of their physical, material nature,” said Mahadevan.

The research, published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, was co-authored with Aryesh Mukherjee and Shreyas Mandre, both former group members of Mahadevan’s lab.

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