Budgies already boast a fairly impressive list of abilities — including speech mimicry, the ability to understand grammar, and the ability to use context-specific speech — thanks to researchers at the State University of New York, Buffalo, they may have yet another ability to add to that list.
According to a study published in PLOS One earlier this year, the researchers suggest that budgies are able to distinguish between subtle differences in sound that typically only appear in human speech; for example, the difference between human “D” and “T” sounds. The catch? The birds that participated in the study had no prior exposure to humans, including human speech.
“Regardless of their experience with speech sounds — whether completely isolated from human speech for their whole lives or trained extensively to mimic speech — the birds in our study used speech cues in a manner very similar to humans.”
— Mary Flaherty, Cognitive Psychologist, The State University of New York, Buffalo
The study is part of a long-standing debate in the scientific community regarding the nature of speech perception. Past research has led scientists to believe that humans and other animals rely on speech-specific mechanisms for identifying and using spoken language. The findings of this most recent study suggest that budgies — and possibly other animals — innately possess a general auditory mechanism rather than one that is trained and developed through exposure to speech. While they don’t conclusively end the debate, the results add more credence to idea that speech perception does not depend on previous exposure to speech.