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A Nightingale's Song Is Headed For the Moon

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Later this year, Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotic Institute is sending a rover to the moon in competition for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which promises $30 million to the team that successfully lands a robot on the satellite and sends back high-definition images. Their effort is called the MoonArk, and among its many earthly artifacts will be a recording of a nightingale’s song.

As The New Yorker reports, the nearly three-and-a-half-minute song was collected by Karl Reich in Bremen, Germany in 1913. Reich bred canaries and is credited with making the first ever bird recordings. The avian enthusiast trained birds to actually sit inside the horn of a phonograph to collect their songs. Eventually those recordings were sold commercially all over the world.

The MoonArk team tapped producer and music researcher Ian Nagoski—who runs a record label called Canary Records in Baltimore, Maryland—to choose a birdsong for the cosmic journey. He told The New Yorker that he chose “Song of a Nightingale” because the birds are the best of all feathered vocalists: “They seem to embody a combination of beauty and desperation. And so, for thousands of years, they became the greatest symbols of the impassioned lover, the romantic, the great poet, the one who simply cannot help but sing, from whom melodies of devotion to its mate seem to flow endlessly in a constant masterpiece of melodic invention,” he wrote.

Seems like a perfect earthly ambassador to send to our closest extraterrestrial neighbor. To read more on the “Song of the Nightingale” and fowl recordings, head on over to The New Yorker.

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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