Thursday, November 13, 2008

Multi-lingual Birds Avoid Danger

As discussed in class, birds (like many other animals) use certain calls to inform others of danger. Upon hearing this call, they can flee from the area in attempt to avoid predation. However, each species of birds have unique calls, allowing them to call for mates of their own species, or aggressively mark territory.

Fairy-wrens in Australia use calls to warn each other of vicious predators such as sparrowhawks, but have also developed another method for avoidance. The scrubwren makes warning calls at the sight of this predator too, and the fairy-wrens have actually learned to identify their calls. This is an excellent adaptation, which has allowed them a far greater chance of being informed of danger, and gives them more time to forage and carry out other tasks, rather then watch for predators.

This behavior has been learned, and is only present in fairy-wrens living in proximity to scrubwrens. Scientists played recordings of scrubwren warning calls to groups of fairy-wrens living near scrubwrens, and fairy-wrens who do not live near other birds, and those that were unfamiliar with the call were unfazed. It appears that scrubwren calls are not the only ones fairy-wren have grown to recognize. New Holland honeyeaters also inhabit the area where fairy-wrens and scrubwrens live, and their call will have a similar effect in fairy-wrens.

Posted by Cecelia Hunt (9)


At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this behavior has been learned, how do the fairy wrens learn that the particular calls of the scrubwren and honeyeaters are warning calls?


At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article. How do they actually learn the different calls? They must have good memory and memory storage and be able to match the calls they hear with the ones stored in their brain, which sounds remarkable. Are the fairy wrens and scrubwrens the only species known to have this multi-lingual ability?

Hanbing Guo

At 10:41 AM, Blogger PWH said...

have any of the fairy wrens calls been seen to be recognized by the scrubwren, or is this multi-lingual ability just a one-way street?

-Benjamin Spozio

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if this is somewhat similar to the mixed wintering groups that we get around here? In the winter chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos form mixed groups that last throughout the winter. They forage together and seek shelter in the same area, there are no territories like during the breeding season. They must have some kind of communication that they can all share in order to form these diverse groups. Maybe communication is more important to birds than previously thought and we are just beginning to see evidence for these different forms of communication.

Allan Eldridge

At 9:12 PM, Blogger PWH said...

That's so cool to think that a bird could understand different "languages". Do you know how someone might have come up with this hypothesis? Are adult fairy-wrens capable of learning the calls or are the population of young living in proximity to the scrub-wrens the only ones who are able to take advantage? Do you think there could be a genetic component to this being as it has not been witnessed (or explored yet I'm guessing) in other species? Thanks for the post.
-Amanda Sceusa

At 9:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a useful ability to have. I was wondering if there has been any studies on scrubwrens to show they've evolved as well. Also what is the difference between both the birds? Is there an area in the fairy-wrens brain that's enlarged in comparison to the other two birds?

Ada Marie Flores

At 11:39 PM, Anonymous Allison Cornell said...

After the fairy-wrens hear the other species' danger calls, do they call too (to maybe inform those of their species that haven't learned the other birds' calls)? Learning other species' calls sounds like an extremely useful talent. Have other birds been known to use other species calls to help them too?

~Allison Cornell (9)

At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can Fairy-wrens recognize calls from other species? If they can learn one language, there is a possibility that they can learn the third and fourth bird language. It will be interesting to see a bird having multiple language rather than bilingual.

-Yi, Jeongsang.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Cecelia said...


Thank you for all the comments!

Susan and Hanbing-
I believe that the learning has to do with hearing the scrubwren call every time a predator is near. I suppose it could be like conditioning: the two stimuli frequently occur together, and become associated.

The article I read did not say anything about the scrubwrens recognizing fairy-wren calls. I do not believe that they have adapted that ability.

That's really very neat. I do not know a whole lot about birds, but this class has opened my eyes to some of the incredible things they are capable of. I think it is very possible that their communication is more important than some may think.

This hypothesis was tested by playing a recording of a scrubwren "danger call" for groups of fairy-wrens living in areas inhabited by scrubwrens, and fairy-wrens who don't live near scrubwrens. Only the fairy-wrens who lived near scrubwrens (and had heard that warning call) fled upon hearing it. This is why it is believed to be learned. As far as adult vs. babies, I am not sure. That's an excellent question. Perhaps there will be further research on this to get a better feel for the cause.


Post a Comment

<< Home