, Volume 98, Issue 6, pp 501-507
Date: 15 Apr 2011

The mimetic repertoire of the spotted bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus maculatus

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Abstract

Although vocal mimicry in songbirds is well documented, little is known about the function of such mimicry. One possibility is that the mimic produces the vocalisations of predatory or aggressive species to deter potential predators or competitors. Alternatively, these sounds may be learned in error as a result of their acoustic properties such as structural simplicity. We determined the mimetic repertoires of a population of male spotted bowerbirds Ptilonorhynchus maculatus, a species that mimics predatory and aggressive species. Although male mimetic repertoires contained an overabundance of vocalisations produced by species that were generally aggressive, there was also a marked prevalence of mimicry of sounds that are associated with alarm such as predator calls, alarm calls and mobbing calls, irrespective of whether the species being mimicked was aggressive or not. We propose that it may be the alarming context in which these sounds are first heard that may lead both to their acquisition and to their later reproduction. We suggest that enhanced learning capability during acute stress may explain vocal mimicry in many species that mimic sounds associated with alarm.

Communicated by: Sven Thatje