Animal Behavior Farm 
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Drs. Andrew King and Meredith West direct the ANIMAL BEHAVIOR FARM. We train students to discover and implement new ways of studying behaving. We offer resources in which students apply the precision of laboratory science to new behaviors and new contexts that are more like field settings. A special interest is in the development of avian vocal communication and social competence. We and our students have taken many approaches to looking at social experience ranging from work with birds who live and interact with humans in their homes to investigations in large aviaries of how social affiliations among younger and older generations of birds leads to social and evolutionary change. Contrary to the image summoned by the term  "birdbrain", many avian species rely extensively on social learning to transmit culture.  Our laboratory was the first to discover that female cowbirds, who do not sing, can still "teach" males how to sing by using visual gestures to motivate and manipulate the male cowbird's vocal practice. Our job is thus to discover the multiple means by which animals guide one another's ability to learn.

    Our students call our lab the "Farm"--we are not sure who started the practice but we like it. In the Midwest, most farmers grow corn, wheat, and beans--we grow behavior.  As cultivators of behavior, we recognize that attention to an animal's social needs is as essential as a farmer's attention to good soil.  Farmers begin to see the effects of poor soil quite quickly as yields decline. Social malnourishment is harder to recognize and easier to ignore. Our aim at the Animal Behavior Farm to create circumstances allowing us to see animals at their best--to create contexts as conducive as possible to revealing hidden or non obvious capacities. To achieve this goal, we leave the typical laboratory cage behind and fashion semi-naturalistic environments, environments balancing our need to see an animal with the animal's need for space and security. Such settings reveal behaviors hard to see in the wild.  By employing state-of-the art video and audio technology to document and preserve the actions of the animals, we offer a new kind of classroom for educating others and ourselves.

     The work we do also has relevance to human behavior, especially prelinguistic behavior in human infants (see Goldstein et al. on publications page). We encourage students to take a comparative perspective, learning about birds and about babies by participating in research at the Animal Behavior Farm and/the Vocal and Communicative Development  Lab. Studies in the infant lab revolve around how parents and infants go about the task of learning to adapt to new forms of communication over time.

Information for prospective students  

Key words: Vocal communication, prelinguistic communication, bird song, development, courtship behavior, birds, comparative psychology, ethology, behavioral ecology, animal behavior, animal cognition, animal intelligence, social development, social learning, social competence, social dynamics, cultural transmission, mate choice, sexual selection, evolution.

The material presented at this website is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0234047. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

The Animal Behavior Farm has been supported for the last 23 years by Indiana University, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and private donors.