Pesky non-native invaders they may be, but the European Starling may have human-like powers of linguistic communication. According to new research, starlings have the ability to recognize recursive grammar—the insertion of an explanatory clause in the middle of sentence—though in the form of warbles or rattles, rather than words. This is sort of a big deal because recursive grammar was, until recently, believed to occur solely in human languages.
In fact, it was supposed to be one of the distinctive features of Homo sapiens‘ intellect. Now it turns out we’re not as different from the aptly named Sturnus vulgaris as we’d thought. To me, that’s one of the fascinating aspects of biology: it often reveals that we are less unique than we think—and more deeply embedded in a wildly complex web of living things.