Talking birds

Talking birds

APPLIED ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR SCIENCE ELSEVIER Applied Animal Behaviour Science 45 (1995) 315-319 Book reviews Talking birds Talking Birds. Valery Ilyi...

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Applied Animal Behaviour Science 45 (1995) 315-319

Book reviews

Talking birds Talking Birds. Valery Ilyichev and Olga Silayeva, Nauka Publishers, Moscow, 1992, 224 pp. (with a preface by Academician V. Sokolov) . Translated from Russian to English

by A. Taruts. Available by special arrangement from John P. Kent, Ballyrichard Farm, Arklow, County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland. US$lO, ISBN 5-02-022461-8. The authors of this book, an ornithologist and a linguist, have been successful in longterm studies of the ‘talking’ bird phenomenon. They have developed original techniques based on ethological methods and biological acoustical analysis. They were the first to make an inventory of the ‘talking’ birds in the world and of their vocabularies. Budgerigars are the main thrust of their research and this book. These birds are able to reproduce several hundred words and word combinations in different situations. Almost every Moscow family with young children keeps budgerigars as pets, and budgerigar contest-winners are capable of pronouncing up to 600 words and phrases. The authors believe that this is not the limit of the species’ capacity, and they call on others to conduct further research in bioacoustics. A new aspect of increasing importance is using these birds as partners for lonely people and for sick children. Parrots belonging to the order Psittaciformes are the best ‘talkers’ among birds, constituting a monolithic order involving 328 existing and 19 extinct species. The order consists of 77 genera, seven subfamilies and one family, the Psittacidae. The authors present excellent material covering historical background, domestication, habitat, morphology, feeding habits, and classification of parrots. In addition to ten chapters with figures, there are 16 pages of coloured photographs. The authors rely on the tape recorder to register a bird’s voice and a sonograph to analyze its acoustic characteristics. Recorded tapes are kept in large sound libraries. (The largest in the world is at Cornell University, with some 24 000 records of voices of 2500 bird species, out of 8500 existing species, and a records catalog consisting of 17 volumes.) The authors present detailed information on the syrinx, the vocal organ in birds. The bird’s cochlea is quite different from that of mammals as well as the absence of an auditory cortex. Helpful hints on keeping and training talking birds are highlights of this book. The authors make a strong point that the purchaser of a bird should be ready to take responsibility for its psychological well-being and survival. Cage dimensions for budgerigars as well as diet, management, health and training are described. The authors encourage sound recordings during training; these can be donated to the sound libraries of Moscow University, the Pushchino Scientific Biophysical Centre and the Severtsev Institute of Evolutionary Morphology and Ecology of Animals, and the USSR Academy of Sciences.


Book reviews/Applied Animal Behmiour Science 45 (1995) 315-319

A highlight of the book is the amusing stories about individual ‘talking’ birds. These include the world’s best known bird, Alex, an African Grey Parrot, and his mentor/trainer Irene Pepperberg, now at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Pepperberg developed a model/rival method in which two trainers participate in the training process. One trainer serves as teacher, while the second serves (like the parrot) as a student, thus providing a model for the bird’s responses and a rival in attracting the first trainer’s attention. A training session between the principal trainer, the second trainer and Alex is included. The best ‘talker’ among parrots is the African Grey Parrot. In total there are about 40 ‘talking’ species. This book is recommended to ‘talking’ bird lovers everywhere as well as the novice with a healthy interest in birds. Further, Ilyichev and Silayeva’s book will help to understand the cognitive powers of these unusual birds, as a basis for application in animal welfare studies. JACK L. ALBRIGHT Purdue University West Lafayette, Indiana USA SSDIO168-1591(95)00623-O

Perspectives on animal behavior Perspectives on Animal Behavior, by J. Goodenough, B. McGuire and R. Wallace. John Wiley, New York, 1993,762 pp. + indices, Price E48.95 (cloth), &21SO (paperback), ISBN: O-471-59965-4. It would appear that the market is satiated with basic textbooks on animal behaviour, but new ones are published at a seemingly increasing rate. It has struck me that these books are often surprisingly alike, structured in similar ways and relying on basically the same examples. Therefore, the first question I ask when opening yet another one is: What makes this book different from all the others? In the case of Perspectives on Animal Behavior by Goodenough et al., the answer is: Not very much. The various aspects of the subject are addressed in a traditional manner. An introduction outlines Tinbergen’s four questions, followed by a historical section including an account of classical ethological concepts and approaches. In the following 17 chapters, behaviour is dealt with from traditional perspectives, under headings such as: Genes and behavior, Learning, Development of behavior, Foraging, Parental care, and so on. The authors seemingly have attempted to provide a comprehensive textbook. In the preface, they claim to have included all the major approaches to the field. However, it appears that this is an insurmountable task for a group of three authors. This book clearly misses certain central areas. For example, motivation theory is not treated at all-in fact, I could not find the word ‘motivation’ mentioned in the book, and it is not in the subject index either.