It’s about the Australian muscovite ducks that can scare away sounds, says Karel Ten Kate, professor of animal behavior at Leiden University. I came across the animal by chance. “When I heard it, I doubted if she was serious,” says Tin Kate.
The animal can not only say “You bloody idiot”, but also imitate the sound of closing the door. This is special, because the ability to imitate sounds is not very common in the animal kingdom. Humans are capable of what’s called “vocal learning” (and thus learning to speak), just as whales, dolphins, elephants, and bats are.
A number of bird species, such as parrots, songbirds, and hummingbirds, are also known to learn sound.
Created by humans
The animal is said to have been raised by humans and Ten Cate traced vocal fragments from a “talking” Muscovy duck. They turned out to be photos from 1987 taken by an Australian bird watcher. After analysis, Ten Cate concluded that the level at which Muscovy ducks can mimic sounds is comparable to that of other types of mimic birds.
If phonemic learning is discovered in a new group, it sheds new light on the conditions and circumstances in which ability can evolve evolutionarily, the professor explains.
Duck brains drift
“Ducks separated from other bird species early on, and are therefore considered ‘primitive,’” says Tin Kate. “Vocal learning is an advanced skill. This also makes the discovery surprising because the brains of ducks differ so much in structure, for example, that of songbirds and parrots. This also raises all new questions.”
Listen to the clip here:
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