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.
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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