As with human speech, a songbird’s vocal learning depends on hearing examples in early life. Young birds listen to and form auditory memories of songs warbled by an adult “tutor” (usually the father), which they use to shape their mating songs later in life.
Shin Yanagihara and Yoko Yazaki-Sugiyama from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan recorded brain activity of 20 male juvenile zebra finches before and during song learning.
They found a small number of neurons in the finch brains ramped up activity following exposure to the tutors’ song, but not after unrelated sounds.
The results were published in Nature Communications. You can hear and see the finches being taught how to sing in the video below.