About This Project
I’m studying the first observable behavior of wild parrot babbling inside the nest. Similar to infants, parrots spend a long time in a nest developing sounds that have never been studied before. We think of infant babbling as the beginnings of language, a behavior that could possibly be shared by these complex birds. By looking at the wild population of Green-rumped Parrotlets (Forpus passerinus) in central Venezuela, this cryptic behavior can finally be described.
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What is the context of this research?
Parrots are complex social birds that are able to mimic new vocalizations (even human language), learn throughout life, and even do basic math problems. Development of vocal learning has a necessary "babbling" stage, as shown in songbird and human research. But how wild parrots babble has not been described in any of the 350+ parrot species. The development of wild parrots is almost completely unstudied because they nest in dark cavities, and getting an insight into this development has typically been difficult. By using HD cameras inside nest cavities of a wild population of green-rumped parrotlets (Forpus passerinus), this study will finally describe the complex babbling stage of developing chicks.
What is the significance of this project?
This project is a unique behavioral study that can change how we understand the evolution and development of communication. It's made possible by using an established field station and a parrotlet population that's been monitored since 1988. I will focus on quantifying the babbling behavior of each individual, and how sibling numbers inside the nest affect babbling. Babbling could differ between individuals and between their chosen call types; it could different between siblings, younger and older; and it could serve a purpose for establishing adult calls.
What are the goals of the project?
My biggest goal is to make my field season in Venezuela a reality. I need to gather video and audio data on the developing chicks and adults. The birds are already color-banded and typically stay in the same population as they mature. My goal is to spend the entire 2016 field season in Venezuela (6 months) for data collection.
These funds will directly get me to my field site in Venezuela and allow me to spend 6 months collecting field data on site. Without these funds I will not be able to complete my thesis field work.
Meet the Team
I’m a graduate student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, in my second year studying avian ecology & behavior alongside Dr. Karl Berg. My passion is to uncover important animal behaviors and combine them with crucial conservation issues of current times. I’ve been building my career in science for the past 8 years, both in academia (B.S. in Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Ohio U.) and through wildlife field jobs across the country. I’ve come a long way, from an immigrant childhood to learning English as my third language. My interests also include nature and literary writing, and I have published my work in several journals.
Parrotlet photo taken by Joe Riis, National Geographic.
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