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Humans and Birds: Different Organs Produce Songs In Same Way [VIDEO]

Nov 30, 2015 11:19 AM EST

While a bird's song may sound very different from a human's voice, the two species actually use similar physical mechanisms to communicate, according to researchers from the University of Southern Denmark. This comes as a surprise since humans and birds evolved with completely different organs for voice production. 

"Science has known for over 60 years that this mechanism – called the myoelastic-aerodynamic theory, or in short the MEAD mechanism –drives speech and singing in humans. We have now shown that birds use the exact same mechanism to make vocalizations. MEAD might even turn out to be a widespread mechanism in all land-dwelling vertebrates," Dr. Coen Elemans, associate professor in the university's Department of Biology and lead author of the study, explained in a news release.

Their findings stem from a recent analysis of six different bird species from five different avian groups, ranging in size from small zebra finches that weigh roughly 15 grams to large ostriches that can weigh as much as 200 kilograms. Their study revealed that all birds used the MEAD mechanism, just as humans do.

Humans have a voice box (the larynx) where air from the lungs is pushed past the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate or move back and forth sideways. These oscillations cause the larynx to open and close, making air flow stop and start, which then ultimately creates sound.

"Such vocal fold oscillations occur from about 100 times/sec in normal speech to one of the highest possible notes sung in opera at about 1400 times/sec, a F6 in Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte," Dr. Jan Švec, co-author and voice expert from the Palacky University in the Czech Republic, said.  

Instead, birds have a unique organ called the syrinx that is located deep in their body, making it difficult to study. However, the recent study made this possible by using high-speed cameras to film sound production in the wide range of birds. Their findings suggest that very different organs can actually produce sound in the same way.  

"We show for the first time that birds also produce sound according to the MEAD theory," Elemans added.

The study was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

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