Dan Mennill records a savannah sparrowBiology professor Dan Mennill records a savannah sparrow song on Kent Island, New Brunswick. Photo by Stephanie Doucet.

Singing lessons: new study shows young birds learn from adults

Just like humans, young songbirds are thought to learn their vocalizations by listening to adults — a process that has been studied in the laboratory but never experimentally in the wild, until now.

A new investigation, published Thursday in Current Biology, demonstrates that wild birds learn to sing based on sounds they hear in the first year of their life.

“This research is the first direct experimental demonstration of vocal learning in wild birds,” said UWindsor biology professor Dan Mennill, lead author of the study.

“We used loudspeakers to simulate the voices of wild birds, and we broadcast songs with distinctive acoustic features to five generations of birds. We found that young savannah sparrows learned the distinctive songs from the loudspeakers, demonstrating the phenomenon of vocal learning in wild animals.”

During the course of a six-year field study, 30 birds learned songs that matched the experimental vocal tutors.

“In addition to the 30 birds that learned songs from the loudspeakers, in four cases birds passed the experimental songs on to other birds” Dr. Mennill said. “This reveals two generations of vocal learning.”

The research, conducted on eastern Canada’s Kent Island at the Bowdoin Scientific Station, was on a long-studied population of savannah sparrows.

“We have been studying savannah sparrows on Kent Island for many generations, and we know that many birds born on this island return to breed here as adults,” said Ryan Norris, a University of Guelph professor and a co-author on the study. “This presented us with a special opportunity to manipulate the early acoustic environment of young sparrows, and then study the voices of those same animals when they returned from migration as adults.”

In a second part of the experiment, the researchers varied the time of year when different experimental songs were played through the loudspeakers.

“We found that birds need to hear a song not only in the first months of their lives, but also when they returned from migration the following spring,” said Mennill. “This reveals that there are two critical stages for vocal learning: exposure to adult sounds early in life, followed by re-exposure at the onset of adulthood.”

The collaborative project was funded by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and involved research teams from the University of Windsor, the University of Guelph, and Williams College.

“This research presents a new technique that can be used to study vocal learning in wild animals,” Mennill said. “Importantly, this investigation confirms that the conclusions of decades of findings from laboratory experiments hold true in the wild.”

Sam Sinjari sitting at table with studentsEntrepreneur Sam Sinjari sponsored a Thanksgiving feast for international students Thursday at the Odette School of Business.

Young entrepreneur rolls out Thanksgiving welcome mat for international students

Setting an example of paying it forward, 29-year-old local entrepreneur Sam Sinjari was on hand at the Odette School of Business over the lunch hour Thursday to host a holiday meal for dozens of Masters of Management international students.

The students were treated to a traditional Thanksgiving feast and a message Sinjari hopes they will take on their own life journey.

“I do not want any type of personal recognition for doing simply what we should all do,” Sinjari said. “Be leaders in our community and set an example for others to hopefully do the same for a cause they believe in.”

He said he appreciates that the holidays can be difficult times for students away from their families and is hoping to help them feel more welcome.

“My primary focus is to show students that there are people in the community who care about them and understand their struggles and challenges,” he said. “One day when they succeed in their endeavours I hope the impact of this act of kindness will inspire them to give back to their community and create great impact themselves. I want to be a part of creating leaders and feel this is a great place to start.”

Odette dean Mitchell Fields says his faculty places strong emphasis on being a 21st century leader.

“Mr. Sinjari is a great example of young leadership in our community, and is providing a wonderful mentorship moment to our students,” Dr. Fields says.

road winding through symbols of various science disciplinesFaculty of Science is hosting its first annual Parents Night on October 10.

Event to showcase UWindsor as the destination science program in Ontario

An event on Wednesday, October 10, will offer parents an opportunity to meet with UWindsor science faculty and students.

The first annual Parents Night event, hosted by USci Network’s Destination Science Initiative, is a chance for both parents and prospective students to mingle with faculty and discover the many undergraduate programs and learning opportunities available. Current students and their parents are also encouraged to attend.

The event runs 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in room 100, Anthony B. Toldo Health Education Centre. Free parking will be available in the Education Lot Q between 6 and 9 p.m.

To indicate interest in attending, RSVP on the Facebook event page.

Justice Dundas accepts congratulations from teammates on his goal WednesdayLancer forward Justice Dundas accepts congratulations from teammates on his goal Wednesday against the Western Mustangs. Windsor won, 4-2.

Lancer men open hockey season with win

The Lancer men’s hockey team will follow up Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over the Western Mustangs by hosting the Laurier Golden Hawks on Friday, October 5.

Windsor is 1-0 for the season after winning its opener on the strength of goals by John Wesley, Justice Dundas, Connor Logan, and Brennan Feasey.

Friday’s faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Capri Pizzeria Recreation Complex. Tickets are available for advance purchase at www.goLancers.ca/tickets.

Women’s hockey will open its campaign on the road Saturday, October 13, in Toronto to take on the Varsity Blues.

Deadline approaching for campus safety grant applications

The deadline for this round of submissions for funding through the Women’s Campus Safety Grant is October 31.

The Women’s Campus Safety Grant Committee is accepting creative, innovative proposals from members of the University community, including faculty or staff individuals or groups, and student organizations.

In accordance with the parameters set by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, submissions are required to support one of the following broad categories or objectives:

  • Awareness or education (e.g., workshops, websites, awareness campaigns)
  • Student services and supports (e.g., campus walk safe programs, sexual assault prevention initiatives, volunteer training, resource materials)
  • Facilities and equipment (e.g., lighting, mirrors, security cameras, emergency phones)

Funding requests are accepted on an ongoing basis by the Office of Human Rights, Equity and Accessibility at:

Projects funded in the current round must be completed — and invoices paid — by March 15, 2019.

man looking at artThe Nigerian Student Association is hosting an art exhibition Saturday as a celebration of African pride.

Alfarma Expression to e-exhibit African art

An art exhibition Saturday in the CAW Student Centre will provide a platform for young Africans to showcase their works to an international audience.

The Nigerian Student Association is hosting Alfarma Expression as a celebration of African pride. Organizers expect a variety of media, from photography to fashion design to live music.

A special e-exhibition feature will allow for remote participation by artists and audience around the world. The event will run 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. October 6 in the student centre’s Alumni Auditorium.

Find more information on the Alfarma Expression website.

cornucopiaThe cornucopia, or horn of plenty, symbolizes the bounty of the harvest associated with the Thanksgiving holiday.

Campus to close in observance of harvest holiday

Thanksgiving Day — Monday, October 8 — is a statutory holiday. There are no classes and all UWindsor offices, including the Leddy and law libraries, will close for the day.

Food Services has issued revised hours of operation for the weekend and Fall Reading Week.