Auditory temporal resolution in birds: Discrimination of harmonic complexes

Robert J. Dooling, Marjorie R. Leek, Otto Gleich, Micheal L. Dent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


The ability of three species of birds to discriminate among selected harmonic complexes with fundamental frequencies varying from 50 to 1000 Hz was examined in behavioral experiments. The stimuli were synthetic harmonic complexes with waveform shapes altered by component phase selection, holding spectral and intensive information constant. Birds were able to discriminate between waveforms with randomly selected component phases and those with all components in cosine phase, as well as between positive and negative Schroeder-phase waveforms with harmonic periods as short as 1-2 ms. By contrast, human listeners are unable to make these discriminations at periods less than about 3-4 ms. Electrophysiological measures, including cochlear microphonic and compound action potential measurements to the same stimuli used in behavioral tests, showed differences between birds and gerbils paralleling, but not completely accounting for, the psychophysical differences observed between birds and humans. It appears from these data that birds can hear the fine temporal structure in complex waveforms over very short periods. These data show birds are capable of more precise temporal resolution for complex sounds than is observed in humans and perhaps other mammals. Physiological data further show that at least part of the mechanisms underlying this high temporal resolving power resides at the peripheral level of the avian auditory system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)748-759
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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