SCIENCE
12/31/2014 09:38 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2014

Drunk Birds Slur Their 'Words' Just Like Humans, Study Shows

Researchers conduct all sorts of strange experiments in the name of science, from studying the slipperiness of banana peels to looking at how dogs orient their bodies when they poop.

And now, in the latest example of strange science, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland got some finches drunk and watched what happened.

Their main finding? Like drunk humans, boozed-up birds slur their "speech."

For the study, the researchers gave grape juice to one group of zebra finches and an alcoholic juice cocktail to another group. The cocktail-quaffing finches became somewhat inebriated, with blood alcohol levels of 0.05 percent to 0.08 percent, according to NPR.

"At first we were thinking that they wouldn't drink on their own because, you know, a lot of animals just won't touch the stuff," Christopher Olson, a researcher at the university, told NPR. "But they seem to tolerate it pretty well and be somewhat willing to consume it."

A comparison of the birds' songs showed that the buzzed birds sang more quietly, and their songs lacked their typical structure (listen to the difference in the video above). Surprisingly, the alcohol did not seem to affect the birds' coordination.

The study might sound a bit silly, but the researchers argue that it has important real-world implications. Since scientists still don't fully understand how alcohol affects our speech, they say, the birds can serve as a good model for understanding humans.

"Because we know a lot about the exact brain areas that control singing and learning to sing in these birds, we are hoping that our future studies will tell us exactly what parts of the brain are affected when alcohol affects speech," co-researcher Dr. Claudio Mello, a behavioral neuroscientist at the university, told The Huffington Post in an email.

In other words, the research wasn't conducted on a lark.

The research may also lead to new treatments for alcohol abuse as well as new technology for identifying people who are intoxicated, Dr. Andrey Rubin, also a behavioral neuroscientist at the university, said in an email.

"Seeing how alcohol affects learned song can help us understand how alcohol affects learning and cognition and help develop treatments of such dysfunctions for humans," he wrote. "Second, there are efforts developing biomarkers of intoxication. Slurred speech could serve as such biomarker, and understanding how alcohol affects mechanisms regulating speech would help us develop such biomarkers."

The research was published online Dec. 23 in the journal PLOS ONE.

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