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Do Birds Dream?

Adapted from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Handbook of Bird Biology
Dreaming bird by Megan Bishop
Dreaming bird by Megan Bishop.

From the Summer 2019 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

Scientists who study the brain activity of humans during REM sleep often ask their human subjects what they dreamed about in order to decipher what the brain activity patterns mean. Birds also exhibit signs of REM sleep. Are they dreaming?

It’s a fascinating question, but unfortunately there’s no answer right now. In birds, the patterns of neuronal activity in different brain regions during REM sleep can be measured, but (obviously) scientists cannot ask birds about their dream content.

However, in male Zebra Finches the neurons in the song system of the brain show spontaneous bursting patterns during sleep. It is thought that this kind of dreamlike replay during sleep might aid song learning and memory.

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