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Parrot Mimicry Circuit

June 29, 2015

A newly discovered brain structure in parrots hints at new mechanisms in brain evolution.



Disco Courtesy Judy Bolton

Watch Disco the Parakeet talk! (Courtesy of Judy Bolton)

Evolutionary insights from some birdbrains. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[My name is Disco; I’m a parakeet.]

Parrots have the rare ability to imitate vocalizations and in the journal PLoS ONE, Duke neurobiologists Erich Jarvis, Mukta Chakraborty and their colleagues report that parrots’ brains make them especially good at it.

ERICH JARVIS (Duke University):

We found that they actually have an extra song-learning circuit that we don’t find in the other species that can imitate vocalizations.


What’s more, the extra circuit appears to be a duplicate of the regular vocal circuit parrots share with other birds. According to Jarvis, this suggests that brains don’t just evolve bit by bit—entire neural circuits can be copied and pasted, like paragraphs in a document. There’s no known mechanism of how that might happen. But if true, it could have profound implications for how brains evolve, not only in birds, but in humans and other animals as well. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.