PhD thesis: Vocal control in the rook (Corvus frugilegus)
Directed by: Valérie Dufour and Nicolas Obin
Oscines (a.k.a songbirds) generally produce vocalisations in specific contexts. In particular, song, the most complex class of vocalisations in the repertoire of a given species, is usually associated with territorial defence or courtship prior to and during the reproductive period. However, little is known of the cognitive aspects of song production. Few bird species have indeed had their cognitives abilities under study, with the notable exception of corvids.
Corvids, on the other hand, demonstrate extensive cognitive abilities both in the laboratory and in the wild (e.g. tool-making, spatial memory enabling caching of food reserves for the winter, social intelligence in the species that live in stable groups). This opens the possibility that these birds are actually able to produce vocalisations of their own volition, at times they choose freely; not to fulfil an outside purpose, but perhaps even in a manner analogous to human music.
My PhD will deal with the study of rook vocalisations, regarding the range of vocalisations produced, but also a higher-level approach with analysis of the structure of rook song, the control of its production.
In another approach, I will attempt to generalise previous studies on vocal signatures, features that can identify a bird or group of birds, with goals to reach pair, social group, and perhaps even colony-level signatures.
Given the large amounts of data involved, I will leverage machine learning in my project, both for the detection and the classification of the vocalisations.