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OTHER WILD BIRD STORIES
Bird Watching Stories
(Go Back to Wild Bird Page Contents)
 
»  Aransas in the Fog:
Whooping Cranes
 
» No Barbeque this Summer 
» Barn Swallow "Mama"  
» Just How Does a Bird Eat Bees?  
» My Birdwatching Adventures in Costa Rica
 » Just Another Golden Eagle  
 » Four Birds in One Tree: 
A Few Days of Birdwatching in England
 
» Four Calling Birds??? 
» A Very Unique Cardinal 
» Narcissism or Territorial
Defense: Macho Cardinal
 
  
» The Last Companion Carolina Paroquet 
» The Ever-Popular Chickadee  
» Convergent Evolution: Meadowlark and Longclaw 
» Barrel Cactus Confrontation 
» Galahs Playing Around and Around and Around ...  
» Who Made Up This Stuff?
Bird Call Mnemonics
 
 
» Mesmerizing a Goldfinch 
» The Best Mimic?  
» Prairie Chickens and Woodcocks:
Missouri Ornithology
  
» Mob Mentality: Who is Really in Control of the Skies?
» The Owl Who Sat Down Beside Me 
» Meeting Hot Shot: The Toddler Peregrine Falcon  
» Seeing 'Sea Parrots'
in Alaska
 
 
 » A Rare and Unusual Bird 
Meeting Roger Tory Peterson
  
» Raven Showoffs 
» Reddish Egrets a nd Canopy Feeding 
 »  Robins and Worms 
Hear, See, Smell, or Feel?
   
» Hospital Halucinations 
» What Are You Doing Here? Scissortail Flycatcher 
» Wild Bird "Attacks": Just Misunderstandings? 
» Drunken Waxwings and an Unusual Hummingbird Feeder
 » Acorn Woodpecker Defending its Stash
» Why Woodpeckers Don't Get Headaches: Built in Shock Absorber 

LEARNING HER LANGUAGE 
One Explanation of Vocal Mimicry in Male Budgies
By Lynne Page  Illustrations by Jeff Riebe 

“Male Vocal Imitation Produces Call Convergence During Pair Bonding in Budgerigars,” by Arla Rile, Thane Plummer, and Georg Striedter, Animal Behavior, Vol. 59, Pt. 6, June 2000, pp. 1209-1218.
Most people with parrot companions become fascinated by the complex sounds that they produce, whether or not the birds produce human words. It is strange, then, to realize how little is known about parrot vocalization. This study focused on one aspect of the contact calls of budgies.
The contact calls of budgies differ from those of most songbirds in at least two important ways. Contact calls of budgies vary considerably from bird to bird, and budgies have the ability to learn new calls throughout their lives.
Little is known about the function or functions that may be served by these qualities. This article reports the results of a study designed to test the hypothesis that “the frequent social interactions between budgerigar pairs facilitate contact call imitation and, as a corollary, that the degree of imitation is correlated with pair bond strength.”
The researchers obtained 9 male and 9 female budgies who were unfamiliar with each other. For a few weeks the birds were housed individually while the researchers made sonograms of the birds’ various contact calls. The birds were then paired by putting together males and females whose calls differed as much as possible. Each pair was kept in a separate cage and all were placed in one room, arranged so no pair could see any other pair. Over a period of several weeks, their contact calls were recorded. Observations were also made of the birds’ behaviors, especially those relating to pair bonding and reproduction.
It was not long before the male and female of each pair shared a contact call, even though they began with quite different calls. All but two of the pairs had a shared call within 3 weeks. The females seemed to change their calls only slightly, but the males generally imitated their mates’ most common call. As time went on, the frequency with which the males uttered their mates’ calls increased.
The authors used sonograms to study how closely the calls of the male and female of each pair converged. They then attempted to correlate this convergence with courtship behaviors such as courtship feeding and head bobbing. Although the statistical analysis did not provide clear-cut answers (and is hard to follow for a statistical illiterate such as me), there was some correlation between call convergence and courtship behavior. The authors note that their study may not accurately reflect what happens in the wild, as these were forced pairings. Possibly wild females would exhibit greater mimicry of their mate’s calls. However, the researchers do note that an earlier study has shown that at least one part of the brain involved in vocal learning is larger in male budgies than in females. Mimicry may play more than one role in the life of a Budgie (and may have different functions for different parrot species), but this study at least suggests that it plays a part in male courtship. 
The authors suggest that females might use call convergence as a sort of test, “as it may enable a female to determine which of the many males in her flock are sufficiently committed to courting her, as opposed to other females, to produce a high-quality imitation of her call.” Following this line of reasoning, they note that the best talking pet budgies seem to be males who have been raised and kept in conditions tending to encourage them to look on their human companion as a mate. One question this study does not address is how call convergence fits with polygamous budgie behavior. It is my understanding that male budgies often mate with several females in a season. Does the male learn all these calls? Like most scientific studies, this one provides some answers, hints at others, and raises more questions for future study.




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