*HIC*... tweet: Sloshed birdsh shlur songs, boffins say

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Pissed birds' songs become slurred in a similar way to that of humans' speech after a night on the sauce.

That's the conclusion from brain boffins who studied zebra finches to try to get a better handle on the effects of alcohol on cognitive function.

Little is apparently known about booze-related garbled speech. Researchers studied zebra finches because they were considered "a representative songbird and a premier model for understanding the neurobiology of vocal production and learning".

The colourful, feathered creatures learn song in a way that is analogous to how humans learn speech, researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University explained.

The birds happily slurped up alcohol when given access to it during the study. Their blood ethanol concentrations (BEC) shot up, the boffins noted. More tellingly, an "altered acoustic structure" was recorded when the birds sang. The scientists said:

The most pronounced effects were decreased amplitude and increased entropy, the latter likely reflecting a disruption in the birds’ ability to maintain the spectral structure of song under alcohol.

Furthermore, specific syllables, which have distinct acoustic structures, were differentially influenced by alcohol, likely reflecting a diversity in the neural mechanisms required for their production.

Remarkably, these effects on vocalisations occurred without overt effects on general behavioural measures, and importantly, they occurred within a range of BEC that can be considered risky for humans.

Our results suggest that the variable effects of alcohol on finch song reflect differential alcohol sensitivity of the brain circuitry elements that control different aspects of song production. They also point to finches as an informative model for understanding how alcohol affects the neuronal circuits that control the production of learned motor behaviours.

Full details of the tipsy songbirds were published in PLOS One here. ®

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