Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bird Can Mimic Others In Context To Apparently Signal Alarm

Date:
January 17, 2006
Source:
University Of Massachusetts Amherst
Summary:
Imitation of other species is one of the most intriguing and mysterious aspects of birdsong. Often — as in the case of mockingbirds — there seems to be little connection between what the bird is imitating and what it is doing at that moment. But in the rainforests of Sri Lanka, a bird that travels in mixed-species flocks has learned to use the calls of other species in the same contexts that those species use them, to apparently signal an alarm.

Imitation of other species is one of the most intriguing and mysterious aspects of birdsong. Often — as in the case of mockingbirds — there seems to be little connection between what the bird is imitating and what it is doing at that moment. But in the rainforests of Sri Lanka, a bird that travels in mixed-species flocks has learned to use the calls of other species in the same contexts that those species use them, to apparently signal an alarm.

The behavior of drongos was documented by Eben Goodale, who completed his Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology last May at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His article about drongo behavior, based on his doctoral thesis, was published last month online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, a British scientific journal. The study, “Context-dependent vocal mimicry in a passerine bird,” is co-authored by Sarath W. Kotagama of the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka.

Goodale’s discovery of the drongo’s mimicking ability is the culmination of years of studying communication among various bird species in Sri Lanka.

“I still remember vividly the moment that I first observed this behavior,” he says. “I was following through the rainforest a mixed-species flock of birds. Mixed-species flocks in this rainforest are large and noisy, averaging 12 species and nearly 40 individuals. From the back of the flock, one bird, a greater racket-tailed drongo, swooped down and approached me to within three meters at my head height. The drongo was clearly mobbing me—a behavior that birds use to notify other individuals of the presence of a stationary predator.”

The familiar scene quickly changed, according to Goodale. “The drongo did an extraordinary thing: it began to mimic the mobbing-specific note types of other species. It kept rotating through the mobbing notes of other species, in addition to its own notes. I wouldn’t have understood what was happening if I hadn’t just completed a study on the alarm-associated calls of all the species in the flock system.”

Further study by Goodale revealed that drongos’ repertoire is varied. They imitate other species’ notes in the same contexts as other birds and also mimic the calls of predators, which they use in alarm situations.

“What’s fascinating about this behavior is that it’s reminiscent of what we know some birds—notably parrots—are able to do in the laboratory: learn to use other species’ signal in a context-dependent manner. But such context-dependent mimicry has not yet been demonstrated in the wild.”

“It’s very significant,” says Bruce E. Byers, a UMass biology professor and one of Goodale’s thesis advisors, “The idea that signals could’ve evolved beyond species boundaries hasn’t really been demonstrated before.”

Byers says Goodale’s paper also reveals “the pretty extraordinary cognitive abilities of the drongo,” an area that his former student is continuing to investigate.

Other aspects of Goodale’s research were published earlier this year in Auk and the Journal of Tropical Ecology. He is planning further fieldwork in Sri Lanka, India and Papua New Guinea.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Massachusetts Amherst. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Massachusetts Amherst. "Bird Can Mimic Others In Context To Apparently Signal Alarm." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 January 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060117083746.htm>.
University Of Massachusetts Amherst. (2006, January 17). Bird Can Mimic Others In Context To Apparently Signal Alarm. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060117083746.htm
University Of Massachusetts Amherst. "Bird Can Mimic Others In Context To Apparently Signal Alarm." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060117083746.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Attacking Superbugs

Attacking Superbugs

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) — Two weapons hospitals can use to attack superbugs. Scientists in Ireland created a new gel resistant to superbugs, and a robot that can disinfect a room in minutes. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) — Cultural transmission — the passing of knowledge from one animal to another — has been caught on camera with chimps teaching other chimps. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) — A new study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that more than half of the world's wildlife population has declined since 1970. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Annual Dog Surfing Competition Draws California Crowds

Annual Dog Surfing Competition Draws California Crowds

AFP (Sep. 30, 2014) — The best canine surfers gathered for Huntington Beach's annual dog surfing competition, "Surf City, Surf Dog." Duration: 01:15 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins