Why Do Birds Mimic Other Species Song?

4th July 2010

Most of us are familiar with this concept because we are familiar with the way a parrot mimics certain phrases it has heard before. However, this concept of mimicking other species sounds has never been seen before in the wild.

One researcher found that when he was observing birds in the a particular rainforest, he found that in a mixed species of birds, his presence was detected. At this point, one of the birds swooped down very close to his head in order to identify him to the other birds as a potential predator. This is known as mobbing.

The funny thing is what happened next. The bird started imitating the mobbing notes of other species of birds in the mixed grouping. So, it kept rotating through all the mobbing notes of all the speices in the group and its own.

In addition to these mobbing notes, some birds such as Drongo bird can also imitate predator calls to warm other birds as well of impending danger.

On the other hand, the mockingbird, uses the different species sounds to attract a female. It would seem that these birds would only sing their own song to attract the female and that singing other species sounds would actually detract and confuse a potential mate.

That is because to human ears, we cannot tell the difference between birds’ songs quite as easily as they can. However, a female can very easily tell by the pitch and temp if a bird is of her species or not. Research shows that these females are actually attracted to males who can sing a wide variety of songs. It is not uncommon for the male bird to know more than 50 different species of songs.

And lastly, and perhaps the strangest bird mimic is the black-throated honeyguide found in Africa which mimics the sound of a bees' nest. This is done to attract the attention of local people. Once it has their attention, the bird leads them to the hive to enjoy the spoils.