(CNN)Laura Molles is so attuned to birds that she can tell where birds of some species are from just by listening to their song.
She's not a real-world Dr Doolittle. She's an ecologist in Christchurch, New Zealand, who specializes in a little-known area of science: bird dialects.
While some birds are born knowing how to sing innately, many need to be taught how to sing by adults -- just like humans. Those birds can develop regional dialects, meaning their songs sound slightly different depending on where they live. Think Boston and Georgia accents, but for birds.
Just as speaking the local language can make it easier for humans to fit in, speaking the local bird dialect can increase a bird's chances of finding a mate. And, more ominously, just as human dialects can sometimes disappear as the world globalizes, bird dialects can be shaped or lost as cities grow.
The similarities between human language and bird song aren't lost on Molles -- or on her fellow bird dialect experts.
"There are wonderful parallels," said American ornithologist Donald Kroodsma, the author of "Birdsong for the Curious Naturalist: Your Guide to Listening." "Culture, oral traditions -- it's all the same."
The first bird dialect experts
For centuries, bird song has inspired poets and musicians, but it wasn't until the 1950s that scientists really started paying attention to bird dialects.
One of the pioneers of the field was a British-born behaviorist named Peter Marler, who became interested in the subject when he noticed that chaffinches in the United Kingdom sounded different from valley to valley.
At first, he transcribed bird songs by hand, according to a profile of him in a Rockefeller University publication. Later, he used a sonagram, which Kroodsma describes on his website as "a musical score for birdsong." ("You really need to see these songs to believe them, our eyes are so much better than our ears," Kroodsma said.)