Claim: Zebra finch call prepares their eggs for climate change

A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. By Keith Gerstung from McHenry, IL, United States – Niagara Falls AviaryUploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0,

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

According to the AAAS, Zebra Finches are helping their hatchlings respond to global warming, by singing to their eggs.

Video: Zebra finch call prepares their eggs for climate change

Scientists have long worried whether animals can respond to the planet’s changing climate. Now, a new study reports that at least one species of songbird—and likely many more—already knows how to prep its chicks for a warming world. They do so by emitting special calls to the embryos inside their eggs, which can hear and learn external sounds. This is the first time scientists have found animals using sound to affect the growth, development, behavior, and reproductive success of their offspring, and adds to a growing body of research revealing that birds can “doctor” their eggs.

“The study is novel, surprising, and fascinating, and is sure to lead to much more work on parent-embryo communication,” says Robert Magrath, a behavioral ecologist at the Australian National University in Canberra who was not involved in the study.

The idea that the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) parents were “talking to their eggs” occurred to Mylene Mariette, a behavioral ecologist at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds, Australia, while recording the birds’ sounds at an outdoor aviary. She noticed that sometimes when a parent was alone, it would make a rapid, high-pitched series of calls while sitting on the eggs. Mariette and her co-author, Katherine Buchanan, recorded the incubation calls of 61 female and 61 male finches inside the aviary. They found that parents of both sexes uttered these calls only during the end of the incubation period and when the maximum daily temperature rose above 26°C (78.8°F).

Read more:

The following is the study referenced by the press release;

Prenatal acoustic communication programs offspring for high posthatching temperatures in a songbird

In many species, embryos can perceive and learn external sounds. Yet, the possibility that parents may use these embryonic capacities to alter their offspring’s developmental trajectories has not been considered. Here, we demonstrate that zebra finch parents acoustically signal high ambient temperatures (above 26°C) to their embryos. We show that exposure of embryos to these acoustic cues alone adaptively alters subsequent nestling begging and growth in response to nest temperature and influences individuals’ reproductive success and thermal preferences as adults. These findings have implications for our understanding of maternal effects, phenotypic plasticity, developmental programming, and the adaptation of endothermic species to a warming world.

Read more (Paywalled):

Bird calls influencing the growth and behaviour of hatchlings is a fascinating discovery, if the result is repeatable.

153 thoughts on “Claim: Zebra finch call prepares their eggs for climate change

  1. “Bird calls influencing the growth and behaviour of hatchlings is a fascinating discovery, if the result is repeatable.”
    But why do they assume it a response to climate change?

      • If this effect were true, it would be an astounding discovoery, with far reaching implications in many areas.
        The fact that the final word of abstract is to link this to “a warming world” makes me think it’s bullshit.
        If it has any substance it would stand on its own and would be hailed as a major discovery.

      • Gavin Schmitt has been trying to warn future generations about global warming by tweeting too …. bird brain.

      • @Greg
        If I had to guess, the “climate change” link was added to increase the likelihood of grant renewal.

      • I think I will get myself a PhD in Zebra Finch Psychiatry so I can listen in on their instructions to the embryos.
        I wonder what the embryos would do, if you played some Mozart to them instead. Or how about some nice French Cesar Franck Organ music; that would wake them up to catch the early worm that gets the bird.

      • @ Greg,
        What the “she” researchers are claiming is NOT true.
        Those two “she” researchers Mylene Mariette and Katherine Buchanan have determined that Zebra finch parents are capable of preparing their eggs (or is it the embryos therein) for climate change.
        And said “parent preparing” was done so by, to wit:

        “She” noticed that sometimes when a parent was alone, it would make a rapid, high-pitched series of calls while sitting on the eggs.

        So, when one of the parents was sitting all alone on a nest-full of eggs ….. it would noninfrequently “chirp-out” a rapid, high-pitched series of calls.
        Well “DUH”, just why was the parent sitting on the nest atop of all the eggs iffen it was actually trying to “chirp-out” a climate changing message to all the embryos inside of the eggs underneath her/him?
        And oh my oh my, …. this one is an even stranger/weirder claim, to wit:

        Here, we demonstrate that zebra finch parents acoustically signal high ambient temperatures (above 26°C) to their embryos

        Why would those two “she” researchers be citing “daily ambient temperatures”, which are a functional result of local weather conditions, ….. as being the “determiner” of future climate changes?
        HA, most anyone with a little common sense about the natural world could tell those two “she” researchers that those …. rapid, high-pitched series of calls being uttered by the “nest-sitting” parent was to inform the other parent to get it’s arse “back to the nest” because the one sitting there was getting too hot and in need of a drink of water and a bite to eat.
        Without good reason, nest-sitting birds in the wild, very seldom, if ever, make any noise, tweeting or otherwise, ….. simply because that would be a sure way of “attracting” a predator.

    • It’s more likely to be a reaction to a huge goanna ponderously making its way towards a smorgasbord of warm-ish fresh eggs (26C).
      The bigger the goanna, the higher pitched the cheeps.
      (I once witnessed a Pommy tourist do the same thing as a goanna took a fancy to her sandwiches)

    • What is wrong with them? Don’t they know that we have reached the Tipping Point, and the End is near, very near?

    • It sounds like a standard link-everything-to-climate-change that we’ve seen for years now. Connect it to the current fad to draw dollars from it.
      However, pre-natal responses to sound are quite interesting on their own.

    • Lack of perspective. Birds are the descendants of dinosaurs, their linage has been through hothouse to ice ages and back again. Of course they have adaptions to climate change already in place. As do human beings, forty some environmental markers in our genome identified so far, arctic, desert, high-altitude, et al.

      • Unless you figure brand new life began rather recently, it makes little sense to speak of this or that particular creature line having “been through” anything any other creature line has not, it seems to me, Larry.

    • it’s not a sound you’ll ever hear (as oddly, they do not nest when it’s cold)
      Such are the mysteries of the world (casts wide eyes around, sweeping hand dramatically across the landscape for effect).

      • I believe the intent of the comment was if it is colder than normal during mating season. They do mate during mating season, regardless of the temperatures, I believe.

  2. That’s great, so we now understand their speech! What else are they talking about, apart from Global Warming?

  3. I read the full article. I’ll wait for someone like Jim Steele to weigh in. But for the moment, let’s take it at face value.
    The researchers are postulating that warmer temps cause the birds to modify their off spring to cope with warmer temps. Presuming that this is an evolutionary trait, and given that evolution cannot respond to future conditions, only past conditions, we have to also presume that the birds’ evolutionary history includes times when the earth was as warm or warmer than it is now. In other words, current conditions are not unprecedented.
    The alternative to that would be to consider that the birds are capable of predicting the future and deciding what to do about it. I’m skeptical, they are after all, blessed with bird brains. Could be worse. They could have super computers.

    • davidmhoffer —
      “I’m skeptical, they are after all, blessed with bird brains. Could be worse. They could have super computers.”
      You win funniest post hands down.
      Eugene WR Gallun

    • David, singing is normal
      The birds stop singing when it gets cold….below 80F
      The opposite of what they are spinning

  4. Thats all we need, an automatic flying temperature sensor letting us all know that its 26c or above.
    Isnt nature wonderful.

    • Yes but it is not a fast enough temperature response to alert them to avoid the Ivanpah chicken cooker.

  5. “The zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata [formerly Poephila guttata]),[2] is the most common estrildid finch of Central Australia and ranges over most of the continent, avoiding only the cool moist south and some areas of the tropical far north.”
    That’s a wide range of temperature conditions. Warrum Ponds is listed as being in or near Geelong, Victoria. It would seem to be towards the southern extremity of range.

    • Which is sad since it seems fascinating. Not only did they identify the meaning of a specific bird call, but they bird’s growth actively responds to it. There’s no need for the transparent climate connection.

  6. Another BS meter blown up. “Climate” and “change” together mean absolutely nothing without a qualifying pronoun. You do have to wonder how they know that the birds are singing about “climate change.” Perhaps they are singing about what a pack of fools humans are to believe such utter garbage.

  7. Uh, if not a one of us can change our height, I doubt bird embryos can control their development by hearing Ma and Pa talking to them.

    • How do they know its Ma and Pa and not Grandma or Aunt Goldfinch with her crackpot ideas?
      How do they know they are Zebra finches in the first place?
      Also to them, whats a zebra or even a finch?
      Attempts to humanise the animal kingdom produces some strange efforts from humans.

    • That’s why if it does work, it’s so interesting. This indicates that they can willfully change their growth pattern (if such a word can be used for finches), similar to pulling or pushing a muscle.
      If I understand the non-paywalled section correctly, the response was to the birdcall alone. That’s not Lamarkism, that’s an unknown mechanism they haven’t seen before.

      • Hold your horses there! It’s no such thing. What it is, is about the stupidest research conclusion I’ve ever seen!
        A)- The chicks are inside an egg and under a parent so they don’t know what the ambient temp is.
        B)- It is hazardous to the chick to hatch when it is too cool
        C)The parent tells the chick when hatching conditions are optimal
        What an unbelievable pile of bovine excrement! Why do people think they can do science when they aren’t even capable of logical thought?

  8. Pregnant women used to gaze at paintings of beautiful people so that their babies would be beautiful. That make as much sense as this birdsong theory.

  9. Perhaps the warmer conditions means the chick will hatch. The parents are making ‘happy’ noises because the chore of incubating will be over.
    That or another thousand possible reasons.

  10. Birds modifying their eggs by chirping is LYSENKOISM.– environment altering genetic inheritance.
    The author of this probably talks to plants and believes in playing Bach to babies in the womb to produce a future musician.
    The stupidity, it burns.
    Eugene WR Gallun

    • Actually (no, seriously) talking to plants can help them, breathing gobs of nice, warm, humid CO2 at them and their little stoma or whatever those things are. Not at all stupid, then, that Barmy Prince Charlie talks to his plants. It’s a good idea.

    • This is not necessarily Lysenkoism. It is not immediately apparent that sound cannot affect embryonic development.

    • Alligators use nesting temperature to determine the sex of their hatchlings. It is not outside the realm of possibility that sounds could also influence fetal development.

      • Mark proposes: “It is not outside the realm of possibility that sounds could also influence fetal development.”
        In fact, there’s an entire lab at Princeton (called the PEAR Lab, fellow named Robert Jahn, I guess they have a large closet under the stairs) devoted to quantifying the Heisenberg principal central to quantum mechanics. Their hypothesis is that consciousness directly influences the physical world in measurable ways and they claim to have measured it.
        So birds sing and it effects embryo development. Right up their alley.

    • Environment may not determine genetic inheritance – actually the jury is still out on that – but it can definitely effect embryonic development.

  11. Are we to believe that Zebra Finches never made these types of calls before the era of global warming? That sure is some fast evolution at work there. But what do the embryos inside the eggs do in response to these calls, flip the air-conditioning switch to on?

  12. Maybe, at 26C, they are singing “Oh what a beautiful morning” and advising the embryo that the world is warming up (at last) and that their lives will be far better than their parents, who have had to suffer cooler temperatures until now.
    A follow-up study could be on how they survived the Little Ice Age?

  13. And how many generations of finches were observed, tracked and extensively documented?
    Peer reviewed.
    The whole lot should be paid in bird seed. Or maybe they already are paid in hemp seeds?
    Brian Cox should have waved the intelligent finches graph around and demonstrated the nurturing finch call warning the chicks to pack shades, bikinis and thongs.

  14. Here’s what puzzles me. How are these finches able to tell the difference between global warming and regional warming from inside their aviary home? That’s a neat trick if they can do it. Did past temperatures never get above 78.8°F in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada? Is 80°F really that unprecedented for that region?
    I really doubt these song birds care if the globe is warming or just their surrounding neighborhood. They probably respond to warm temperatures just as they have for thousands of years. Is there any evidence this is a new behavior?

  15. Bird song varies with the temperature gets translated into birds can predict climate change.
    Hmmmm maybe they can predict the stock market too.

  16. Back in the 1950’s my brother kept Zebra finches, outdoor aviary in Lancashire. They used to sing about brass monkeys.

  17. Great!
    Now that we have found a species which is able to effectively direct pre-natal environmentalist propaganda, I propose a Zebra Finch for next head of the IPCC,….

  18. It has been alleged by credible sources that 1/2 of the scientific literature is false. I think that these experts are being far too generous. I would wager that almost all of the scientific literature is false in some way.
    The “scientists” are completely blinded by a worldview and bend their results to match said bias.
    This article highlights a perfect example. Birds singing modifies the eggs of offspring because of “global warming” when there has been no global warming. Do the damn birds read the alarmist newspapers? They sure don’t feel any warming as there has been none.

    At least the paper is behind a paywall. The fewer that read such codswallop the better.

  19. Apparently if you put “climate change” or “global warming” in a grant proposal you can study anything you like, as long as the results support AGW. And of course, the results, even if they are bird-brained, ALWAYS support AGW.

  20. What’s going on here?
    Are academic papers being pinned to the wall and a squirt pistol loaded with concentrated Climate Change Solution used to spray them? Or is it more like skunk marking, where scientists are evolving a tumescent Climate Change Gland which causes great discomfort, then great relief when it is used to spray references to CC into their papers?
    What ever the circumstances surrounding these odd gland secretions, I’m sure the natural cycle of climate change gland-spraying will itself be revealed to be affected by climate change.

  21. BBC is doing this story in the US as I write this. They are calling it The Heat Song.
    No wonder the people are so stupid on the subject. They live in a vortex of propaganda.

    • How do we separate propaganda from “education”. Can we?
      Once, when I attended a high school graduation of a rather arrogant grandchild, I told him that half of what he had learned in school was wrong and he would not be really educated until he knew which half.
      I realized I was grossly overestimating education.

      • Don’t forget that there are basics. The Alphabet and Arithmetic.
        Plus, there are many things where they have to go through the human understanding era by era. You can’t divide by zero in elementary school. You can in upper algebra once you understand the concept of infinity and cancellations. Similarly, you can’t get to Einstein until you first learn Newton.
        Finally, history is a wash of half-truths that you can understand more and more of over time. I’ve learned not that my education was wrong, but that it was far less complete than I had ever dreamed.

  22. I haven’t read the whole thing, but apparently, all they’ve done is observe a simple correlation. Now, someone needs to conduct some actual science, and set up an experiment to test the hypothesis.

    • Not an experiment — we need a new MODEL, preferably on a very expensive computer! No need to validate the model though, we have already decided what the results will be.

  23. Well I haven’t paid to read the full paper, but I would have thought that the parent bird chirping above 26c is an unnecessary extra postulation of a causal step than the egg itself simply expereincing ambient temperatures of 26c and above.
    I would be heartened if they did a control study which looked at what happened if the egg were exposed to high temperature chirping but kept below 26c. Maybe they did? Can anyone tell me?

  24. This is science?
    Birds in general incubate eggs close to our body temps, although their body temps are higher. Incubating to keep temps close to 37C is ideal for many species, but it’s important to not let the sun overheat them as well, so shading the eggs is done too. From the article I post below the finches try to maintain 35C according to a study done in Victoria. Also, as per many species, they wait until the last egg is laid to begin true incubation.

    • CR, your link says it’s known that birds communicate – not with eggs but with partners :
      ‘Vocal negotiation over parental care? Acoustic communication at the nest predicts partners’ incubation share’
      There’s really something bad with peer review.

  25. So birds apparently have body thermometers sensitive enough to detect global temperature changes on the order of tenths of a degree and then have the ability to react to those minute temperature changes?
    Fascinating. Peer review at its finest.

    • Yeah, it’s something the species evolved to give them a survival advantage. In case they need it…

  26. Singing that GCM project they should not plan on roosting near the present-day coastline, as by 2100 it will be two meters underwater.

  27. I don’t believe they found the Zebra Finch Rosetta Stone, so their interpretation is BS. However, sounds we hear entrain our brain waves. It is claimed that a 4hz tone causes a 4hz brain wave response. This has been used in meditation for a few decades now.

    • Actually the opposite – ‘they’ HAVE found the Zebra Finch Rosetta Stone, and it is hidden behind the paywall so no one will look there for it.

  28. Baby birds are susceptible to cold temperatures. Wouldn’t it make sense that they have evolved a way to tell the chick whether it is safe to hatch? I think most people will realize this has nothing to do with AGW and it will just serve to dilute their message.

  29. I used to raise and sell zebra finches in Arizona years ago. I have raised many birds. ALL birds often ‘vocalize’ to the eggs as the babies are about to hatch! And the warmer it is, the more ‘talk’ there is. NOT because warm is evil or to ‘prepare them for heat’ but because the birds are HAPPY. Zebra finches like chickens, love hot weather.

    • Indeed the adult birds do a lot of vocalizing. With the many live nest cameras now placed near many species this parental vocalizing can be seen and heard and the soon to hatch and the pipping stage birds begin vocalizing as well which can sometimes be heard if the nest cam’s have good audio, with parents sort of encouraging them perhaps (anthropomorphic projection here, lol).

  30. Birds can “doctor” their birds by singing. Well, how do you know what the effect is if you don’t know what it was before, or what the actual changes are due to the singing.
    Basically, this is a “thought” paper parading as science that is trying to ride the coat tails of Climate Change because everything is “caused” by climate change without any actually effects of that cause observed.

  31. Seems to me I’ve read about several of these novel and surprising finch studies before.
    Back in the 1960s researchers were studying whether finch calls to their eggs determined nuclear radiation levels.
    Back in the early 1970s researchers were studying whether finch calls to their eggs determined the existence of God or Hare Krishna supporters at airports.
    Back in the late 1970s, early ’80s, researchers were studying whether finch calls to their eggs represented repressed memory syndrome or finchling abuse.
    Back in the 1980s researchers were studying whether finch calls to their eggs demonstrated the potential for cocaine use.
    Back in the 1990s researchers were studying whether finch calls to their eggs represented teenage finch oral s.e.x.
    And now, in the new millenium researchers are studying whether finch calls to their eggs …

  32. “…high ambient temperatures (above 26°C)…”
    So, anytime we record a temp above 26°C we can expect the climate to change?!

  33. I trust they are also warning them of the coming invasion by space aliens. Because that would be irresponsible parenting if they didn’t.

  34. OK, so apparently the birds only sing the particular song when temps really have 26°C. I would like to know how often it reached that temp? Daily, most days? Maybe the song had more to do with time of day? Or maybe it is the finch’s way of saying ‘Dang! It’s hot!’

    • In Chile and California, birds are preparing for an earthquake. In the UK, they are preparing for brexit. In Syria, they are preparing for Russian bombs. In Japan and Thailand birds are preparing for tsunami.

  35. Alarmists are only capable of seeing everything thru a lens of global warming, to them everything must relate to GW and grant money too. the claim of the paper is absurd.

  36. The most ridiculous sentence to me was ” Scientists have long worried whether animals can respond to the planet’s changing climate.”
    It should continue “…but not near as long as animals have been adapting successfully to climate.”
    Perhaps worry is not the indicated form of study here.

    • Perhaps that is true of Hummingbirds also. We have a feeder outside the kitchen window and when it is empty or one of the others in the yard is empty, they watch for us to be at the sink and hover at the glass to get our attention, even when only the ant mote is out of water (they drink the water). I should catch it with my phone video.

  37. I waited until I was fully awake with both coffee and a soda in me, am now eating early lunch and STILL I don’t understand how the author of that article wasn’t stabbed in the throat for wasting money.

  38. “” The idea that the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) parents were “talking to their eggs” occurred to Mylene Mariette, a behavioral ecologist at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds, Australia, while recording the birds’ sounds at an outdoor aviary…
    …Mariette and her co-author, Katherine Buchanan, recorded the incubation calls of 61 female and 61 male finches inside the aviary.””
    I thought California had first dibs on all the fruits and nuts, especially those in the pseudo sciences. How did they miss out on those two.

  39. This is a half-step shy of the Lamarckian doctrine of ‘soft inheritance’.
    Sometime, in the foreseeable future, a LOT of ‘scientific’ journals and societies are going to have to explain a lot of their publications and apologize for the bad science they have published.

    • Actually, it turns out lamarkian ‘evolution’ (really phenotype adaptation) also takes place, via epigenetics. Worth reading about. Is fairly new molecular biology, but now quite well established including underlyting mechanisms like methylation in expression regulation regions (formerly thought to be ‘junk’ DNA) and DNA differential coiling. Coral budding adaptation (as opposed to spawning, the Darwin evolution mechanism) is one example response to delta water temperature and salinity. This on top of symbiont exchange via transitory coral bleaching, also something not well understood until recently.

  40. The researchers say nothing about climate change they merely say the adult birds sing a different song depending on temperature, thats it. Stop writing ninsense

    • Quote….”Scientists have long worried whether animals can respond to the planet’s changing climate.”..That is the very first line..Who is talking “nonsense” ?? Changing climate = “Climate Change”..

    • Of course your criticism is directed at sources such as and other GW proxies that are reporting exactly that.

      • LOL, when I tried to inform someone I know that there is no real CO2 emergency, he responded “You don’t read National Geographic, do you?” I said “No, I read the papers the articles in NG are based on, whenever I can. But I also read many more.” He still tuned me out, but it was a great counter-jab that made him all the more furious that I didn’t “believe” so his counter was “You can believe what you want I guess”.

  41. I didn’t think that anthropomorphizing animal behavior was worthy of publication. It boggles the mind to think that a paper like this actually made it through pal, er, peer review.

  42. Finch live about 5 years, not long enough for them to gather any reliable trend data, so i doubt they would know the difference between warming and cooling outside of seasonal variability. Furthermore, if they were somehow aware that the earth was about to boil why waste their time bring up kids? Surely there would be a party to go to…

    • That’s what the chirping is: finches passing the data on so that their great-great-grandchicks will have a usable baseline for climate studies!
      Where’s my grant?

  43. Expectant human mothers should take heed of this, and begin “preparing” their fetus for “climate change”, by playing recordings of Al Gore. Ya gotta start ’em young.

  44. The Zebra Finches can’t, on their own, be sensing or commenting on CAGW, because CAGW and/or unprecedented warming, is not happening, so the Zebra Finches must have been exposed to the Climate Change Gurus’s propaganda, at some point in time. Someone must have shown the Zebra Finches a Hockey Stick chart, and caused them to panic and start spouting Alarmist gibberish to their eggs.
    Someone ought to tell those birds about the windmill blades. They could pass that along to their offspring, too.

  45. So… Alarmists who can’t seem to stop twittering about Climate Change are actually trying to change the growth development of any embryos nearby them? Who knew?
    I wonder is the mother’s are OK with that?

  46. If the birds do it, then so are the bees. All life, in fact, must be yakking about climate. If only we had a Dr. Dolittle to tell us what they are all actually saying.

  47. When my wife was pregnant our as yet unborn son used to kick quite a lot. We used to calm him down by placing a loudspeaker on her abdomen and playing him classical music. He plays the French Horn now.

  48. I think that the Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata) are probably better as parents than,Mylene Mariette is a as a behavioral ecologist at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds near Geelong in Victoria, to judge by this effort. The Zebra Finch has a very long history of success as a parent to show us……Deakin University, not so much.

  49. They’re just giving the kids a weather report so they will know whether to put on the long johns before coming out to play.

  50. Zebra finches, like most australian birds are opportunistic breeders, i e they breed more or less continuously when conditions are good (=wet) and stop breeding when times are bad (=dry).
    I should guess that their signaling to the eggs are more likely to be related to this than to temperature per se. I. e. “times are good kids, get ready to grow fast and start breeding soon” or “times are tough, no hurry, don’t waste good food”.

  51. Zebra finches, is’nt that the canary in the coal mine?
    It only happened above 26C, so they act like a thermometer, but have no clue of any climate change.
    If i dress lighter when it is more than 26C does that mean i am aware of climate change?

  52. As the climate is not getting warmer, I would conclude that, if these researchers are correct, the parent birds are feeding their eggs propaganda, which questions the sincerity of their parenting.

  53. In the wild zebra finches happily live in areas where the temperature is well above 26C for months, in fact closer to 40C.
    The study was done in an aviary !
    Perhaps what the finches were saying was something like……”Wow, it’s 26 degrees, not cold anymore. Wish we were well out of here and back in the bush”.

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