Discrimination of auditory gratings in birds

Michael S. Osmanski, Peter Marvit, Didier A. Depireux, Robert J. Dooling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Auditory gratings (also called auditory ripples) are a family of complex, broadband sounds with sinusoidally modulated logarithmic amplitudes and a drifting spectral envelope. These stimuli have been studied both physiologically in mammals and psychophysically in humans. Auditory gratings share spectro-temporal properties with many natural sounds, including species-specific vocalizations and the formant transitions of human speech. We successfully trained zebra finches and budgerigars, using operant conditioning methods, to discriminate between flat-spectrum broadband noise and noises with ripple spectra of different densities that moved up or down in frequency at various rates. Results show that discrimination thresholds (minimum modulation depth) increased as a function of increasing grating periodicity and density across all species. Results also show that discrimination in the two species of birds was better at those grating periodicities and densities that are prominent in their species-specific vocalizations. Budgerigars were generally more sensitive than both zebra finches and humans. Both bird species showed greater sensitivity to descending auditory gratings, which mirrors the main direction in their vocalizations. Humans, on the other hand, showed no directional preference even though speech is somewhat downward directional. Overall, our results are suggestive of both common strategies in the processing of complex sounds between birds and mammals and specialized, species-specific variations on that processing in birds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-20
Number of pages10
JournalHearing Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory grating
  • Budgerigar
  • Human
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Threshold
  • Zebra finch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems


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