Vocal mimicry in spotted bowerbirds is associated with an alarming context

Laura A. Kelley*, Susan D. Healy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Although the presence of vocal mimicry in songbirds is well documented, the function of such impressive copying is poorly understood. One explanation for mimicry in species that predominantly mimic alarm calls and predator vocal isations is that these birds use mimicry to confuse or deter potential threats or intruders, so these vocalisations should therefore be produced when the mimic is alarmed and be uncommon in other contexts. Male bowerbirds construct bowers to display to females and anecdotal reports from the Ptilonorhynchus genus suggest that males mimic alarm sounds when disturbed at their bowers. We quantified and compared the rate of mimicry during disturbance to the bower by a human and in naturally occurring social contexts in a population of spotted bowerbirds Ptilonorhynchus maculatus. Male bowerbirds produced mimicry more than thirty times more frequently in response to bower disturbance than they did in any other context. Neither conspecifics nor heterospecifics were attracted to the bower area by mimicry. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that the production of mimicry is associated with a response to an alarming situation. Additionally, the predominance of alarm mimicry by spotted bowerbirds raises the possibility that the birds learn these sounds when they experience alarming situations and they reproduce them in subsequent alarming situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)525-530
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Volume43
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012

Keywords

  • PHAINOPEPLAS
  • STRESS
  • DISTURBANCE
  • GROUND-SQUIRRELS
  • DECORATIONS
  • CORTICOSTERONE
  • MEMORIES
  • CALLS
  • CORTISOL
  • RESPONSES

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