Sunday SciKu | Friendly Finches

Photo by David Clode

Past studies have shown that humans can recognize the voice of a friend after hearing just two words with 90% accuracy, and that babies recognize their mother’s voice at birth. I’ve never found an answer to the question of how many voices we have stored this way, and I wonder if it might be up to Dunbar’s Number—the number of social contacts we’re able to store and keep track of without external support systems. That number, around 150, is thought to govern the tribe sizes in hunter-gatherers, among other things, and thus has a large influence human cognition and history.

I always think of this when I notice a celebrity voiceover. If I recognize John Krasinski in an Esurance commercial, does that mean he’s in my tribe psychologically, even though I don’t actually know him? What a strange world we live in.

Anyway, this week’s SciKu was inspired by research out of U.C.-Berkeley showing that zebra finches are also able to recognize the voices of their friends in this way, right up to their own “tribe” size of 50. The thought of finches twittering to their friends made my day.


all these years
your voice on the phone
still birdsong


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