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Drunk Finches Slur their Songs

Dec 29, 2014 02:17 PM EST

It's common knowledge that alcohol can impair your speech, and apparently the same can be said of birds. Recent research has shown that even drunk zebra finches slur their songs.

"We just showed up in the morning and mixed a little bit of juice with six percent alcohol, and put it in their water bottles and put it in the cages," lead study author Christopher Olson told NPR. "At first we were thinking that they wouldn't drink on their own because, you know, a lot of animals just won't touch the stuff. But they seem to tolerate it pretty well and be somewhat willing to consume it."

Finches have long been used as a model to study human vocal learning, and since alcohol affects human speech, Olson and his colleagues at Oregon Health and Science University wanted to see if the same was true for birds.

The blood alcohol content of the birds were measured in the .05 percent to .08 percent range, and while that isn't enough to make the finches fall-down drunk, it was enough to impair their crooning abilities.

Audio recordings showed that the finches' songs became quieter and slightly slurred, and according to Olson, "a bit less organized in their sound production."

"This may help us to better understand how speech and language work, and also identify some possible genetic causes of speech and language impairments, a novel and exciting area of research that sounded very esoteric not too long ago," Dr. Claudio Mello, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at OHSU, who was not involved in this latest study, said in a statement. "The studies in birds will help us understand where and how these genes work in the brain, and thus devise better approaches to combat speech problems in humans."

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