Avian vocal mimicry

To: Birding-aus <>
Subject: Avian vocal mimicry
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2006 23:28:46 +1000
Philip Veerman wrote (13 Jul 2006):

> About bird mimicry. I wish I had the energy to do hours of retyping of an
> pivotal article on the subject, because it really is important in an
> Australian context where we have so many good bird "mimics" apart from that it
> is interesting. Most vocal mimicry by birds is certainly fun and entertaining
> to observe and ponder about but really it is not mimicry within the usual
> biological sense (as in the way that insects mimic the appearance of other
> species for example. In that most vocal mimicry by birds it is NOT directed at
> the model species, it does not benefit the copier by association with the
> model species and it has no relevance to the model species. Most is just
> copying sounds in order to increase the vocal range of the mimic bird. It is
> interesting to speculate about connections between the bowerbird mimicking a
> raptor for example but is their any connection? They mimic so many other
> species as well.

It is relevant to note that "A New Dictionary of Birds" ed. by Sir A.
Landsborough Thomson (now not so 'new' - Nelson, 1964) has separate entries

    "Mimicry - advantageous resemblance of one species to another" and

    "Mimicry vocal - imitation by birds of sounds outside their specifically
characteristic vocalisations."

In "Acoustic Communication in Birds" edited by Kroodsma and Miller (Academic
Press, 1982), a whole chapter is devoted to Avian Vocal mimicry (Volume 2,
pp 51-83) and the author, Jeffry R Baylis, writes:

        I define vocal mimicry as the resemblance of one or more
vocalizations of an individual bird of one species either to the
vocalizations typical of individuals of another species or to some
environmental sound.  "Mimicry" will be used in this chapter as a
contraction for "avian vocal mimicry".

I think it fair to say that when the term "mimicry" is used in connection
with birds, non-Batesian vocal mimicry is what is being referred to unless
the context clearly shows otherwise.

In general, avian vocal mimicry seems not to be aimed at the species whose
vocalisations are being imitated.  And lyrebirds, renowned as "mimics",
aren't directly copying the other species.  They learn their "mimicry" by
copying mature lyrebirds.  (Mostly!)  And their mimicry is aimed at other
lyrebirds: the display song mimicry at females; but sometimes, goshawk
mimicry at other males in territorial boundary dispute situations.

Like Baylis, I use "mimicry" as short for "avian vocal mimicry", and I think
most people do.



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