A duck learned to curse intrigues scientists in Australia

If we were to say that in Australia there was a duck who, in the 1980s, learned to curse people, you would probably respond that we started the September 7 holiday early. And yet, scientists across the country introduce you to the “Ripper”, a duck-jowl who not only figured out how to project his “voice” into something very similar to human English, but also imitated the sound of a door slamming with strength.

And since we couldn’t make a statement like that without providing evidence, we obviously have the audio of it:


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The sound is quite muffled, but the recording shows Ripper vocalizing – or at least trying – the offense “you bloody fool” (of all the possible translations, the lightest we can show here – but without losing the refinement – ​​is “you damned fool”).

On the other recorded track comes the sound of knocking “on the door” – or at least knocking on any surface, hard, because it’s not enough to have a duck who learned to be abused and curse, but also to be mocked while doing this :

Paw ducks are known in English as “musk ducks” due to the strong odor they give off during mating periods. Ripper apparently wanted to stand out for other reasons. According to the scientists, he must have discovered the “words” when he repeatedly observed a former keeper, who probably repeated the phrase in his presence.

“Acquiring vocalizations by observation is known only in a limited number of animal groups,” said Carel ten Cate of Leiden University in a new paper published in Royal Society Publishing. “In the case of birds, some types of nightingales, parrots and hummingbirds demonstrate this same ability.”

According to Cate, Ripper was raised in captivity in the East Gippsland region of Victoria in September 1983 – and was “hatched” by humans (indoors, with artificial light, before you can imagine someone sitting on an egg) . Specifically, he was born in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. “Unfortunately, all reserve documents were lost in a fire that devastated the institution in January 2003, making it difficult for us to establish more exact details.”

Fifteen years later, another duck, also bred on the reserve, but born and hatched by its own biological parents, also exhibited different vocalization traits (although without swear words and insults): “this second specimen learned to imitate a Black Duck (Anas superciliosa), characteristic of the Pacific Ocean”.

Photo shows a male grouse swimming in a pond in Australia.  A specimen of this type of duck learned to curse like humans
A male buckwheat duck, probably thinking “What are you looking at?”, following with insults that we can’t reproduce here. Image: Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock

Other recordings mentioned by the scientists reveal a duck-of-paw imitating the sneeze of a horse and even the noise of a rusty ratchet – adding “random” to a list of adjectives that already includes “abused” and “disgusted”.

“Together with previous observations of different populations and differentiated vocalizations in captive-bred individuals, these findings demonstrate the presence of advanced vocal learning capacity comparable to that seen in hummingbirds and parrots,” said Cate.

The reason for the study comes from the complete “randomness” of the subject: unlike parrots and hummingbirds, which are relatively (albeit distant) close, the chintz are much more isolated in the realm of aviaries. In your biological family (Werewolf biziura), they are unique, and are not related to any other birds: in addition to being distant from parrots and hummingbirds, they are also isolated of the birds that imitate these birds.

The reason for this, however, probably comes from an organ they all have – and which chin ducks have a huge size: the telencephalon, part of the brain associated with the speech of parrots and other birds, is much more notable in aviaries aquatic species such as swans, geese and, yes, ducks.

It does not explain, however, why of that duck learn to speak, while others are just “quack quack”. Cate speculates that this was due to independent evolution: according to her, when we think of evolution as a tree, the animals closest to the “trunk”, such as the duck-jowl, are those that created new tracts very early, while those of slower evolution were for the “root”.

“Ducky voice learning represents a case of independent evolution, which raises many questions about behavioral and neural mechanisms involved in voice evolution and adaptation in this species,” said Cate.

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