Listen to an Australian duck say ‘You bloody fool’ like a human

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By Christa Lesté-Lasserre

Adult musk ducks raised successful captivity tin mimic the sounds they heard arsenic hatchlings, specified arsenic a pony snorting, a doorway slamming, a antheral coughing, and adjacent what was apt a erstwhile caretaker’s catchphrase, “You bloody fool!”

The large, grey Australian h2o birds usually larn to marque high-pitched whistles from their older flock mates. But individuals raised successful captivity distant from different musk dusks person been heard copying the sounds astir them associated with quality life.

The findings supply grounds that musk dusks (Biziura lobata) present articulation parrots, hummingbirds, definite songbirds, whales, seals, bats, elephants and humans (but not different primates) arsenic vocal connection learners, which get “utterances” based connected what they perceive arsenic infants, says Carel 10 Cate astatine Leiden University successful The Netherlands.

“Vocal learning is simply a uncommon and peculiar trait, truthful that makes this duck peculiarly special,” helium says.

Ten Cate studies vocal learning successful birds and was precocious fascinated to stumble crossed a vague communicative astir a talking duck successful Australia. So helium tracked down the now-retired Australian idiosyncratic Peter J. Fullager, who archetypal noticed the improvement much than 30 years ago. Fullager shared his conserved audio clips of 4 year-old Ripper, a antheral musk duck nested and hand-raised successful a quality reserve without different musk ducks. In the clips, Ripper waddles and splashes astir speaking curse words erstwhile acting aggressively and imitating a slamming doorway dependable erstwhile trying to pull females.

Fullager besides shared an audio clip of a 2nd antheral that was raised astatine the aforesaid reserve with his parent successful 2000, on with Pacific achromatic ducks (Anas superciliosa) that quack “like communal parkland ducks,” 10 Cate says. Female musk ducks bash not execute vocal displays, and the young, unnamed duck grew up to imitate the quacking achromatic ducks astir him.

After 10 Cate verified the recordings’ authenticity, helium utilized bundle to corroborate that the birds were repeating noises from their environment, successful immoderate cases sounds that they had lone heard successful the archetypal weeks of life. In the recordings, the ducks made these sounds dozens of times successful a substance of minutes, astatine astir four-second intervals.

“When I archetypal heard these stories I thought, ‘Oh this indispensable beryllium a truly bully joke,’” 10 Cate says. “But really they travel from respected scientists and vertebrate keepers, and the reports are precise reliable. Apparently, these ducks are learning thing astir vocalisations starting astatine a precise young age.”

After talking with different researchers, 10 Cate discovered a lawsuit of 2 different parroting, captive musk ducks, raised successful the UK. “They sounded similar a snorting pony, a coughing caretaker, and a squeaky door,” helium says. Despite these convincing stories, however, cases are few, astir apt due to the fact that the chaotic waterfowl are usually excessively assertive to beryllium kept captive, says 10 Cate.

Journal reference: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2020.0243

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