Animal Cognition

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 203–211 | Cite as

Closed-loop bird–computer interactions: a new method to study the role of bird calls

  • Alexandre LerchEmail author
  • Pierre Roy
  • François Pachet
  • Laurent Nagle
Original Paper


In the field of songbird research, many studies have shown the role of male songs in territorial defense and courtship. Calling, another important acoustic communication signal, has received much less attention, however, because calls are assumed to contain less information about the emitter than songs do. Birdcall repertoire is diverse, and the role of calls has been found to be significant in the area of social interaction, for example, in pair, family, and group cohesion. However, standard methods for studying calls do not allow precise and systematic study of their role in communication. We propose herein a new method to study bird vocal interaction. A closed-loop computer system interacts with canaries, Serinus canaria, by (1) automatically classifying two basic types of canary vocalization, single versus repeated calls, as they are produced by the subject, and (2) responding with a preprogrammed call type recorded from another bird. This computerized animal–machine interaction requires no human interference. We show first that the birds do engage in sustained interactions with the system, by studying the rate of single and repeated calls for various programmed protocols. We then show that female canaries differentially use single and repeated calls. First, they produce significantly more single than repeated calls, and second, the rate of single calls is associated with the context in which they interact, whereas repeated calls are context independent. This experiment is the first illustration of how closed-loop bird–computer interaction can be used productively to study social relationships.


Single call Repeated call Social interaction Computer Methodology Canary Serinus canaria 



A.L. is funded by the Institut Emilie Du Châtelet, which supports research on women, sex, and gender. We want to thank N. Giret and Z. Skandrani for participation in the early stages of this work, and C. Desaleux and P. Groué for taking care of the birds. We also thank the referees for their helpful comments and advice, and Katy Masuga for her help with the English translation. All stages of this experiment were carried out under agreement number 92-244 (L.N.), delivered by the French Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries, and comply with the current laws of France. The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1. Positive interaction. The computer responds with a prerecorded single call when the bird produces a single call, and with a prerecorded complex call when the bird produces a complex call. (WMV 1428 kb)

Supplementary material 2. Negative interaction. The computer responds with a prerecorded single call when the bird produces a complex call, and with a prerecorded complex call when the bird produces a single call. (WMV 1388 kb)

Supplementary material 3. Synthesized interaction. The computer responds with an artificial sound when the bird produces a call. In this example, it responds with an artificial sound like a single call when the bird produces a single call, and with an artificial sound like a complex call when the bird produces a complex call. (WMV 1612 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandre Lerch
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pierre Roy
    • 2
  • François Pachet
    • 2
  • Laurent Nagle
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Compared Ethology and CognitionUniversity of Paris Ouest Nanterre—La DéfenseNanterre CedexFrance
  2. 2.Sony Computer Science Laboratory of ParisParisFrance

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