Constraints on vocal production learning in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulates)

Michael S. Osmanski, Yoshimasa Seki, Robert J. Dooling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) are small Australian parrots with a well-documented, learned vocal repertoire and a high degree of vocal production learning. These birds live in large, social flocks and they vocally interact with each other in a dynamic, reciprocal manner. We assume that budgerigars must process and integrate a wide variety of sensory stimuli when selecting appropriate vocal responses to conspecifics during vocal interactions, but the relative contributions of these different stimuli to that process are next to impossible to tease apart in a natural context. Here we show that budgerigars, under operant control, can learn to respond to specific stimuli with a specific vocal response. Budgerigars were trained to produce contact calls to a combination of auditory and visual cues. Birds learned to produce specific contact calls to stimuli that differed either in location (visual or auditory) or quality (visual). Interestingly, the birds could not learn to associate different vocal responses with different auditory stimuli coming from the same location. Surprisingly, this was so even when the auditory stimuli and the responses were the same (i.e., the bird’s own contact call). These results show that even in a highly controlled operant context, acoustic cues alone were not sufficient to support vocal production learning in budgerigars. From a different perspective, these results highlight the significant role that social interaction likely plays in vocal production learning so elegantly shown by Irene Pepperberg’s work in parrots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)150-158
Number of pages9
JournalLearning and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Budgerigar
  • Operant control
  • Vocal production learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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