When a male finch is an hour late for his turn on the nest, he and his partner have a heated squawking exchange. Zebra finches share their parental responsibilities equally, so such a late return (herein induced by researchers trapping the males for an hour-- poor guys!) provokes a strong reaction*.

The finches have a prolonged, more rapid exchange of calls after a breach of protocol; then, when the female goes off for her turn to forage, the amount of time she stays out depends on how much the male had called to her after his late return. In other words, an extensive "talking" session (more than 40 calls) led the female to keep her foray within 30 minutes, while a halfhearted attempt (fewer than 40 calls) led the female to stay out as long as 60 minutes.

In the study, the researchers write that "these results suggest that duets may function as ‘vocal negotiation’ over parental care."

As usual, we could learn a lesson from these little finches: if you make a mistake, talk it out; the mistake matters far less than your efforts to work through it.

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* It is interesting to note that the brooding parent never left the nest before his or her partner returned, even if the partner was far later than usual.