Oct 16, 2018 | Updated: 04:34 PM EDT

Chatty Zebra Finches May Slur Their Speech When Drunk, But Then Again Who Doesn’t?

Dec 31, 2014 02:58 PM EST

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Well, they may not be the normal bar hoppers you're likely to spot out on New Year's Eve, but a new study shows that when zebra finches imbibe even just a bit, they won't likely pass a sobriety test no matter how high their tolerance. Spiking the drinks of the small Darwinian subjects, researchers with the Oregon Health & Science University found that after drinking even small amounts of liquor the birds were less inclined to fly around but certainly slurred their songs and chirps with a distinct drunken vibe.

The study, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, analyzed the zebra finches which were intentionally intoxicated for the study, and found that the acoustic structures of their learned songs were altered and slurred at best. Though not typical ideal model organisms, the zebra finches were chosen as the subjects for the study because the researchers say that the birds learn a song "in a manner analogous to how humans learn speech."

"There are remarkable analogies in how zebra finch song and human speech are learned and produced" study authors wrote in their research article published earlier this week. And with such analogous properties, the zebra finch allowed the researchers to better understand and investigate the neural processes underlying birdsong, and potentially human speech.

For the study, the researchers gave one group of birds simple white grape juice to drink, while another group had their juice spiked with something stronger-ethanol. And when imbibing, the second group of birds displayed some classic signs of intoxication, being not able to sing quite as loudly as usual and not being able to maintain their song's normal structure and tempo, which are distinct characteristics of every bird species. But as far as the other drunken setbacks and ramifications that most humans experience after a night on the town, researchers found that the zebra finches did not meet the same stumbling fate. In fact, the birds did not seem to droop their wings, close their eyes, or even show signs of sluggishness during the course of the study.

"We did not detect visible effects on the birds' general behaviors or health, as indicated by the normal appearance of feathers and the ability to perch, feed, maintain normal posture and fly inside the cage" the study authors say. 

So whether or not you'll be ringing in the New Year with champagne or celebrating your hump day with some Margaritas down by the shore, as long as you won't be going for karaoke, you may have found yourself a designated flyer in the zebra finches, who apparently are just chatty drunks.

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