Adding colour-realistic video images to audio playbacks increases stimulus engagement but does not enhance vocal learning in zebra finches

Judith Varkevisser, Martin J How, Katharina Riebel, et al.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
131 Downloads (Pure)


Bird song and human speech are learned early in life and for both cases engagement with live social tutors generally leads to better learning outcomes than passive audio-only exposure. Real-world tutor–tutee relations are normally not uni- but multimodal and observations suggest that visual cues related to sound production might enhance vocal learning. We tested this hypothesis by pairing appropriate, colourrealistic, high frame-rate videos of a singing adult male zebra finch tutor with song playbacks and presenting these stimuli to juvenile zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Juveniles exposed to song playbacks combined with video presentation of a singing bird approached the stimulus more often and spent more time close to it than juveniles exposed to audio playback only or audio playback combined with pixelated and time-reversed videos. However, higher engagement with most realistic audio–visual stimuli was not predictive of better song learning. Thus, although multimodality increased stimulus engagement and biologically relevant video content was more salient than colour and movement equivalent videos, the higher engagement with the realistic audio–visual stimuli did not lead to enhanced vocal learning. Whether the lack of three-dimensionality of a video tutor and/or the lack of meaningful social interaction make them less suitable for facilitating song learning than audio–visual exposure to a live tutor remains to be tested.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages26
JournalAnimal Cognition
Early online date17 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this research was provided by a Human Frontier Science Program Grant (No RGP0046/2016). We would like to thank Jing Wei, Quanxiao Liu and Zhiyuan Ning for the visual comparison of the spectrograms. We want to thank Cynthia Tedore for very helpful advice on video color adjustments and screen calibration and Carel ten Cate, an anonymous reviewer and the editor for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • bird song
  • vocal development
  • video tutors
  • multimodal communication


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