Last Updated on by Mitch Rezman
This clock is made up of different parts of the bird’s body working together, like the pineal gland and the eyes, and is synchronized with the light and dark cycles of the environment.
Scientists are interested in how this clock is connected to the bird’s behavior, and how it has changed over time due to evolution.
The problem for our birds is all these physiological systems were developed over the past 100 million years ago or so and our “pet” birds are indigenous to areas close to the earth’s equator.
According to Ornithology.com:
Parrots were domesticated by the ancient Romans and kept as pets as far back as 5000 years ago in Brazil. Parrots first appeared in Europe in 327 B.C. when Alexander the Great conquered India and took Ring-neck (Rose-ringed) Parrots and their cousin the Alexandrine Parrot, back to Greece.
Note Brazil and Europe in the same sentence with Europe being much north of the equator.
Why is geography important? The natural cycle of light.
Just today we were walking the neighborhood around 4:00 PM and were talking about how bright and cheery is was at 4, unlike January.
Therein lies the rub.
For some of the same reasons, humans get (S)easonal (A)ffective (D)disorder, our birds don’t ger dressed, they get stressed then act out by screaming, plucking and chronic egg laying.
Birds have always been associated with time in our culture, from the sounds of roosters at dawn to the migration of geese in the fall. This connection is reflected in the early scientific studies of bird biology, which have helped us understand how their internal clocks work. However, there is still much to learn about the role of the avian clock in behavior and how it is connected to other timing mechanisms.
Birds have an internal system that helps regulate their behavior and biology based on the time of day and the light and dark cycles in their environment. This system is made up of different parts of the bird’s body, like the pineal gland and the eyes, that work together and are influenced by a network of genes.
The pineal gland and the eyes are also important for regulating the timing of the bird’s internal processes, with the pineal gland secreting the hormone melatonin at night, which affects the activity of the bird’s internal clock. The bird’s internal clock is synchronized with the light and dark cycles and affects many aspects of its behavior, such as its activity levels and metabolism.
The avian circadian system is complex and not yet fully understood, but scientists are working to uncover more about how it works and its role in bird behavior. By studying the molecular, physiological, and behavioral elements of this system, we can better understand how birds use time to regulate their behavior and biology.
Birds have some advanced cognitive abilities that are similar to those of mammals, and some birds, such as crows and parrots, are especially skilled in these abilities. These abilities often involve seasonal or daily rhythms, which suggests that the bird’s internal clock plays a role. The parts of the bird’s brain responsible for these abilities can be found in the telencephalic pallium, which is similar to the neocortex in mammals.
The location of these structures within the telencephalon is different from mammals, but the functions they perform are similar. For example, the avian hippocampus, which is responsible for short-term memory and place, is located differently than in mammals, but performs the same functions. The avian prefrontal cortex, which controls self-directed and task-specific planning, is located in a different part of the brain than in mammals.
There is evidence that the internal clock affects the timing of bird songs and the process of learning new songs. The part of the bird’s brain responsible for singing and song learning is a specialized network of nuclei in the brain that receives auditory input. This network processes the song in different areas of the brain, and there are pathways involved in song plasticity and learning. This includes a loop between different parts of the brain, such as the HVC in the dorsal forebrain and the LMAN, which then projects to the robust nucleus of the archipallium, which forms the song motor output pathway. Although birds and mammals have evolved advanced cognitive skills, they have done so in different ways, with different parts of the brain being involved.
Birds have a complex biological clock system that helps them keep track of time. This system includes different parts of the brain and the pineal gland, which is responsible for producing a hormone called melatonin. This hormone is regulated by the amount of light the bird is exposed to and helps synchronize the bird’s internal processes with its environment.
There are two sets of structures in birds that are associated with keeping time: the medial suprachiasmatic nuclei (mSCN) and the visual suprachiasmatic nuclei (vSCN). The vSCN is responsible for regulating some of the bird’s activity during the day, while the mSCN is active at night. Pineal melatonin, which is produced during the night, helps regulate the activity of the vSCN.
Birds have some amazing cognitive abilities, including the ability to remember things and navigate, which are linked to their circadian clock system. Different parts of their brain are responsible for these abilities and are similar to the structures in the brains of mammals. For example, the avian hippocampus (HC), responsible for short-term memory and navigation, is located in a different part of the brain than the equivalent structure in mammals.
The brains of birds and mammals are different, but they both have special areas that help them do complex tasks. For birds, a special network of brain cells is responsible for singing and learning songs. These cells process sounds that birds hear and help the birds learn and remember songs. Some birds can only learn songs when they are young, while others can add new songs to their repertoire throughout their lives. This process of learning songs involves two phases: listening to a tutor’s song, and practicing the song until it becomes their own.
There is evidence that the timing of when birds sing and learn songs is influenced by their biological clock. For example, when birds sleep, the cells in their brain that control singing fire, which helps them remember the songs they learned while awake. The bird’s internal clock, which is controlled by a hormone called melatonin, can also affect how birds sing and learn songs. For example, the amount of melatonin in a bird’s body changes depending on the time of day or year, and this can affect how well a bird sings or learns a song.
In summary, the brains of birds and mammals are different, but they both have special areas that help them perform complex tasks, such as singing and learning songs. The timing of these tasks is also influenced by the bird’s internal clock.
In simple terms, studies determined how the hormone melatonin affects the size of a certain area in the brain of house sparrows that controls their singing. They found that the size changed depending on the amount of melatonin the birds received, making it larger or smaller based on the season. But, they did not find any effect on the size of the birds’ testes. They believe that melatonin not only affects the birds’ singing pattern but also the size of the area in the brain that controls it. However, they don’t know if melatonin has any effect on the birds’ ability to learn new songs.
In birds, being able to cache resources like food and remember their location is a basic form of understanding spatial orientation. Some birds are really good at this, like chickadees, corvids, and certain species of owls. They not only remember where they stored food, but also when they stored it and what type of food it was. These birds can plan to retrieve the stored food even months later.
The size of the brain area called the HC (hippocampus) seems to be important for this ability. Food-storing birds like jays and chickadees have larger HCs than birds that don’t store food, like house sparrows. Also, the HC of food-storing birds has more new brain cells being produced compared to non-storing birds.
However, there’s no evidence yet if the internal clock or any other brain structure related to the clock affects this ability. Most food caching behavior follows seasonal patterns that are controlled by the amount of light the birds receive. Caching happens in the fall when food is plentiful and retrieved in the winter when food is scarce. Some birds can store food for long periods, like the Clark’s nutcrackers. They store pine nuts in the fall, migrate to lower altitudes for the winter, and retrieve their caches in the spring.
The size of the HC can change depending on the time of year, being larger in the late winter and spring than in the fall. But, the change is much smaller compared to the changes in the song control system and it also varies based on the year and location. Even so, the HC of chickadees still has seasonal patterns of new brain cell production, suggesting that the process involves replacing old brain cells with new ones.
There have been no studies yet on how melatonin affects food caching behavior, but it is believed that it might have an effect. The same goes for birds’ ability to migrate long distances and return home accurately, which is also a mysterious and impressive feat. Birds are born with the ability to migrate in a certain direction and distance, but they can also modify their migration as they learn the route. They use their internal clock to navigate using the sun’s position, along with other forms of navigation like smell, magnetic fields, and a sun compass.
This ability has been shown in birds like European starlings and domestic pigeons. It was once a mystery if this internal sense of time was the same as the biological clock, but studies have suggested that they share similar properties. However, the mystery remains unsolved.
Birds have a biological clock that plays a critical role in regulating their sleep/wake cycles, and also has an impact on other aspects of their behavior and physiology. Scientists believe that the mechanisms of the circadian clock should be linked to these behaviors, but this connection is not yet clear. Additionally, the circadian clock could be influenced by the activities that depend on it.
At the molecular level, the biological clock in birds is made up of a network of genes that regulate the 24-hour cycle. Some studies have looked at the possible connection between the clock and cognition in birds, such as homing pigeons using their internal clock to orient to a food source or the presence of melatonin receptors in the avian song control system. However, the exact relationship between the clock and these behaviors is not yet known.
Birds provide an opportunity for researchers to explore the links between the circadian clock and behavior, as they exhibit complex and experimentally tractable cognitive behaviors, and the mechanisms of their biological clock are becoming clearer. However, the ideas about the relationship between the clock and behavior are still based on hypotheses and require more research to be confirmed.
Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing