In nature, musk ducks (Werewolf biziura) learn to emit high-pitched whistles with the oldest birds in the flock. Ripper, a member of the species raised in captivity in Australia, had a different teaching method. Without veterans to teach him the characteristic noises of the species, he ended up reproducing the sounds he heard in the environment around him – which involved everything from cursing used by humans to slamming the doors of the aviary.
Ripper’s behavior was first noticed more than 30 years ago, but has not yet been described in scientific journals. Now, a researcher at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands has decided to change that scenario. Ethologist Carel Ten Cate retrieved old audios and wrote an article on the vocal learning of musk ducks, which was published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
The above audios, which show the animal imitating the sound of a door slamming and saying You bloody fool! – “you fool“, in English – they were recorded as early as the 1980s by (now retired) scientist Peter J. Fullagar. He recorded Ripper, the rude duck, at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, near the Australian capital Canberra. Decades later, Ten Cate, who studies vocal learning in birds, heard the story about Australian talking ducks and decided to contact Fullagar.
The initiative was well received by the scientific community. Now, we have evidence that puts the musk duck for the first time alongside other species capable of reproducing outside sounds and other animals, such as parrots, songbirds, hummingbirds, bats, whales, elephants and humans. The Australian duck was the only one of its kind in captivity, and seems to have learned to curse in its first few weeks of life, after coming into contact with a grumpy caretaker.
Ripper is no exception. Fullagar also kept records of two other musk ducks that came to live on the Australian reserve in the 2000s.Anas superciliosa). The female didn’t make sounds, but her firstborn learned to reproduce the screams of their fellows of the other species. Ten Cate also looked for other ethologists, and ended up uncovering the story of two more musky ducks living in captivity in the UK. They were in the habit of imitating snorting ponies, coughing people and creaking doors.
The number of records of the behavior is limited, but the researchers justify saying that this is an aggressive species and difficult to be raised in captivity. It is not yet known how musk ducks became susceptible to vocal learning, but scientists have their hypotheses: to begin with, the telencephalon of these birds – part of the brain associated with vocal learning in parrots and songbirds – is larger than in parrots and songbirds. other groups of birds. Another point scientists have realized is that these ducks are closer to the base of the evolutionary tree of birds. This means that musk ducks may have developed imitation skills earlier and separately from other species that also reproduce the behavior. Scientists must continue to study the phenomenon.