Graduate Program in Neuroscience

Michael Beecher

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My lab studies the function and the development of song in birds. Our study species is the song sparrow. We study function in the field, via a long-term banding and recording program combined with field experiments (mostly playback studies) and radio-tracking. We study development both in the field, where we focus on young males we have banded in the nest or netted during their first summer, and in the laboratory, where we attempt to manipulate the key conditions identified in the field studies. Our laboratory song-learning studies use live ‘tutors’ (rather than the traditional ‘tape tutors’) and, recently, ‘virtual’ tutors, i.e., computer-controlled, interactive presentation of songs designed to simulate live birds. We hope to identify the interactive features of singing that make social (live) tutors so much more effective than non-interactive tape tutors, and make song learning observed under natural field conditions so fundamentally different from that observed in the lab with tape tutors. We integrate this work with collaborative studies on neurobiological factors in auditory perception and in song perception and production in particular; we have done this work with Eliot Brenowitz and several other members of Neurobiology and Behavior .