How exactly do birds ‘talk’ to one another? And might research into how birds listen to birdsong help us understand communication both in humans and birds? Dr Robert Dooling and his team, based at the University of Maryland, USA, showed that – for zebra finches at least – the subtle nuances in sound texture or timbre are more important than the sequence of repeated sounds. This is surprising to us as humans, since the sequence of sounds that make up words and sentences is crucial in our communication. The team’s research suggests new avenues of investigation in using zebra finches as animal models for the processing of sounds and sequences.