Whether living with pirates or in the wild, parrots have exceptional abilities to mimic the sounds they hear. One species, the orange-fronted conure, may have evolved this ability in order to communicate with specific individuals in other flocks, according to research published November 21 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Thorsten Balsby from the University of Aarhus, Denmark and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen.
In the wild, orange-fronted conures live in dynamic flocks where individuals flit in and out, so each parrot encounters many different individuals every day. Each animal also has its own unique call. Both in the wild and in the researcher's experiments, parrots that heard an imitation of their own calls responded more frequently and faster to the calling individual than parrots that did not hear this imitation. Based on these observations, the authors suggest that the parrots may have evolved their abilities as mimics so they could 'begin a conversation' with a specific individual by mimicking their call.
Citation: Balsby TJS, Momberg JV, Dabelsteen T (2012) Vocal Imitation in Parrots Allows Addressing of Specific Individuals in a Dynamic Communication Network. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49747. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049747
Financial Disclosure: TD is supported by a framework grant No. 272-07-0477 from The Danish Council for Independent Research, Natural Sciences. TJSB is supported by a Steno-stipend No. 272-06-0272 from The Danish Council for Independent Research, Natural Sciences. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.