Universiteit Leiden

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Judith Varkevisser

PhD Candidate

J.M. Varkevisser MSc
+31 71 527 4910

I am a PhD student at the IBL (Institute of Biology Leiden) supervised by Katharina Riebel. I’m interested in vocal development and communication in vocal learning species. For my PhD-project, I study the influence of multimodal cues on vocal learning in zebra finches.

More information about Judith Varkevisser



I started my PhD at the IBL  in May 2016.  I received my master’s degree in linguistics in 2015 from Leiden University. During my master’s, I did a research internship at the IBL in which I investigated changes in the crystallized song of zebra finches over time. For my thesis I worked on a comparative analysis of sex differences in birdsong.   I received my bachelor’s degree in linguistics in 2013, also from Leiden University. During my bachelor’s, I did a research internship at ‘stichting Plotsdoven’ in which I investigated video glasses as a new means of communication for post-lingually deafened adults.  During my studies, I worked as a student assistant in a project on prosody in whispered speech at Leiden University Center for Linguistics. 


While studying linguistics, I became interested in the question of how our way of communicating compares to that of other species. I became especially interested in the communication system of species that, like humans, are ‘vocal learners’, which means that they have to learn their species-specific vocalizations from conspecifics. Birdsong is an example of a learned communication system, and it is often used in studies of vocal learning because of the numerous parallels that it shows to human language and speech. 

For my PhD-project I study multimodal communication in zebra finches. This project is part of a collaborative HFSP-project (Human Frontier Science Program) between the Free University of Amsterdam and the Free University of Berlin. At Leiden University, we investigate how vocal learning in zebra finches is affected when only sound or both sound and sight are available during vocal development. We compare vocal production and perception learning among groups of zebra finches that were tutored by a bird that they could only hear or by a bird that they could hear and see. We plan to also investigate how song learning is affected if information from the auditory and visual channel are mismatched.


PhD Candidate

  • Science
  • Instituut Biologie Leiden
  • IBL Animal Sciences

Work address

Sylviusweg 72
2333 BE Leiden
Room number 7.4.18



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