Bird Mimicry

For centuries, even deep into the scientific era, human beings have projected themselves to be one of the most intelligent species on the planet. After all, we are highly observant creatures where we applied the schematics from nature and of our own kind to build a grand modern civilization. It’s our gift of awareness that has allowed us to replicate forms that we see around us. When it comes to mimicry, we’ve adopted behavioural mimicry which includes taking on body language, mannerisms and gestures of people. On the other hand, we’ve even mastered verbal mimicry where we can impersonate someone’s speech patterns and characteristics. While human beings do possess this vocal repertoire, we aren’t not the only ones that have tapped into this vocal versatility to interact with our environment

Birds exhibit a special voice box below their trachea called the syrinx, which has muscles on its outer wall that can manipulate complex sounds with ease. Much of a birds’ communications is vocal, as they have adapted to interact with their surroundings using a medley of calls to attract mates and safeguard territories. But have you ever hear birds mimic different sounds?

Not has this intrigued many ornithologists but it has left many birders and enthusiast perplexed when they hear a call of a bird but there’s unexpected species perched where the sound seems to be coming from.

Top Mimicking Birds

Birds have been able to mimic sounds since the advent of its discovery. Many species of birds fall under this category where they’ve expanded their vocabulary for a wide array of reasons. The variety of sounds include calls of different species of birds and other animals. In many cases, birds who have encountered human activity or live in close proximity to human beings have been known to mimic sounds that belong to the human world. The superb lyrebird is one remarkable species that has been observed to mimic the sounds of a camera shutter and chainsaws apart from 20 other species of birds of its habitat.

A fair indictor of vocal experience lies in the birds age. However, birds begin experimenting with sound when they’re just about juveniles. Their curiosity is peaked as they first learn by observing their parents, which soon expands to their surrounding environment.

Mimicking Birds of IndiaMimicking Birds of Rest of the World
Raquet Tailed DrongoAfrican Gray Parrot
Common Hill MynaSuperb Lyrebird
White Rumped ShamaBrown Thrasher
Syke’s LarkEurasian Jay
Golden Fronted Leaf BirdEuropean Starling
White Bellied DrongoGray Catbird
Black DrongoNorthern Mockingbird

Why Birds Impersonate Other Birds

Through several observations, it is understood that birds use an array of songs of other birds and animals to go about their day to day lives by incorporating techniques of stealth and productivity. This ranges from capitalising on food to impressing potential mates.

  • Territorial Defence and Brood Protection

 With threats from other birds to in the form of brood parasitism or predation. Some birds have equipped themselves to sound like a bird of prey to deter birds from approaching their nests, thereby safeguarding themselves and their chicks from foreign dangers. Also, the extra arsenal added in the form of vocal prowess can also help birds demonstrate their own strength, keeping challengers away by tricking them into thinking there are more birds in the area than previously conceived.

  • Capitalise Food

 This feature can be particularly attributed to drongos. With an innate sense of intelligence, species of drongos are highly observant when it comes to grabbing food from other species. While keeping a watchful eye from a comfortable perch, they are quick to impersonate a bird of prey when they discover that the other birds have struck gold. Terrified by the false threat of a predator, the birds scatter away, leaving a spread of food for the drongo to pick from.

  • To Attract a Mate

Exhibiting vocal compositions to attract mates is an integral part of courtship rituals for most species of birds. Singing a song that has different tones incorporated will garner the much needed attention as it displays a sign of intelligence that is highly desirable. Observing peculiar sounds and applying it to their vocal range can most certainly entice a female. The Syke’s Lark is a great example of this, attracting its’ mate with bouts of mimicry, combined with other vocalisations. Not only is it fairly accurate but it includes the sounds of 15-20 species in a less than a minute.

  • Acceptance and Play

 Many birds live in flocks and social groups where learning from one another can bring about social acceptance. Many a times, mimicry can help them enhance their skills and by observing other birds within the flock which will subsequently help them increase their chances of attracting mates and safeguarding territory in the future. We might not completely grasp this, but birds do sing as a form of play. When they hear certain sounds, they enjoy experimenting with the newly discovered tones to see what they can possibly do with them.

Telling the Difference in Calls

As mentioned before, for many birders, even the ones with trained ears, can find it quite perplexing as they hear an unexpected call or bird song that doesn’t sound like the original. But tuning in to the below factors can help you identify a genuine call from its imposter

  1. Try and seek the origins of the call. Identifying the bird based on sight will guarantee the most accurate ID
  1. Tune in to the song, you might notice tonal variations or glitches that give the song away. For example, Raquet Tailed Drongos exhibit a metallic glitch in their mimicry
  1. Also, do keep in mind the habitat you’re in. Many times, their might be a mismatch of bird call and the area you hear it in.

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