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Vocal Imitation in Parrots Allows Addressing of Specific Individuals in a Dynamic Communication Network

November 29, 2012

Vocal Imitation in Parrots Allows Addressing of Specific Individuals in a Dynamic Communication Network

Source: PLoS ONE

Parrots in captivity are known for their ability to vocally imitate humans and recently it has been shown that wild-living orange-fronted conures are able to immediately imitate other individuals’ contact calls. The function of this exceptional ability to imitate remains unclear. However, orange–fronted conures live in fission-fusion flocks where they encounter many different individuals every day, and it is possible that their vocal imitation ability is a flexible means to address a specific individual within a flock. We tested this via playback to short-term captive wild conures. Test birds were placed together in pairs in outdoor aviaries to form simple flocks. To simulate imitation of a specific individual these pairs received playback of contact calls that primarily imitate one of the two birds. Overall, individuals that received simulated vocal imitations of its calls responded more frequently and faster than the other individual. This suggests that orange-fronted conures can use imitations of contact calls to address specific individuals of a flock. In the discussion we argue that the fission-fusion flock dynamics of many parrot species has been an important factor in evolving conures’ and other parrots’ exceptional ability to imitate.

See: Parrots imitate individuals when addressing them (EurekAlert!)

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