Q&A: Do Birds Listen When You Play Music?

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Credit Victoria Roberts

Q. Do the songbirds on the wire outside my window listen when I practice the violin?

A. In all likelihood, they do, said Timothy J. DeVoogd, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, who has long studied both human and bird brains, particularly how the brains of birds encode learned behaviors like song.

He said he was aware of a good study from 2012 that suggested that bird brains respond to song in the same areas that human brains do.

“As a shorthand way of thinking, if a bird song sounds musical to human ears, odds are that similar human music will sound songlike to the bird,” Dr. DeVoogd said.

“We know that with the combination of both innate and learned qualities, birds will cue into a particular frequency range, a particular tempo and that the bird then constructs his own song using those qualities.”

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