SALEM, MA - JANUARY 7: A bird perches on the neck of a guitar, part of an installation, "From here to ear," at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem of about 70 Zebra Finches making music on 14 electric guitars. The installation, a creation of French artist-musician Celeste Boursier-Mougenot, is part of the museum's "FreePort" contemporary-art series and will be open January 18 -April 13, 2014. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Charles Darwin learnt a lot from finches, but the little birds still have much to teach us. Amy Middleton reports.
Singing the right notes gives zebra finches a dopamine hit, new research suggests.
A research team led by Vikram Gadagkar, a neurobiologist at Cornell University in New York, set about matching birdsong performance with dopamine – a brain chemical related to our reward and pleasure centres.
Although many behaviours are learnt through trial and error, the brain’s evaluation process is poorly understood, the researchers write in Science.
“When practicing piano, how do you know if you struck the right or wrong note?” the report asks. “There is nothing intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘bad’ about the sound of A-sharp. It entirely depends if that’s the note you wanted to strike at that time step of the song.”
The researchers use this analogy to explain how sensory feedback helps us evaluate how our performance compares with the …