Saturday, April 3, 2021

What Happens When a Bird Population Does Not Know Its Song?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Endangered Species, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

The Regent Honeyeaters (Anthochaera phyrgia) are critically endangered birds in Australia. One reason appears to be that they are not learning their songs which are used to announce territory and in their courting behavior. These birds learn their songs from others but populations of these birds are now so small that they are imitating the songs of songs of other species.

And confusion reigns. Who is no longer who.

The Guardian has a story by Graham Readfern, a video and a link to the study about this bird "once seen in flocks of hundreds across south-eastern Australia" but "now thought to be only a few hundreds of the songbirds left in the wild." Ecologist Ross Crates says that this is one of the first examples of the "loss of vocal culture." 

According to Readfern's reporting, honeyeaters are "known to imitate the songs of other birds, but" the reason for this was not known. It was once thought "that this mimicry might" be be a "male's show of skill that would be attractive to a female." Now researchers are not so sure of this. In the study recordings of birds in the wild and in captivity were analyzed. "The complexity of the songs appeared to be diminishing."

In a captive breeding program "juveniles have been played recordings of regent honeyeater calls from speakers inside their aviaries." Now "two wild-caught adults in neighbouring aviaries" have been added "to see if this can also help the young males to learn the right song before they're released into the wild."

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