Parrots parrot for love

Parrots are famous for parroting,
but it has remained unclear exactly why the birds exhibit this behaviour.

Now new research, published in the
journal Ethology, has provided some insight into why parrots parrot. It should
come as no surprise that the research indicates it has everything to do with
finding a mate.

“We wanted to know whether a female
budgie pays attention to a male’s call when she first meets him and if she uses
that information when deciding to mate,” said Nancy Burley of the University of
California. “If so the question is: are females attracted to males that produce
calls similar to her own?”

However, since male budgies are
quick learners and adapt their calls to match a potential mate’s call almost
instantly, the study had to find a way around this.

The study involved placing monitors
in a cage with the female budgie. The screens showed footage of the same male
budgie but with different recorded calls. The recordings were activated when
the female landed on a pressure sensitive perch connected to the monitors.

The female budgies in the study
showed a clear preference for the virtual males whose calls more closely
mimicked their own. This means that the ability to mimic a call could have a
profound effect on the likelihood of success when looking for a mate.

Though it had long been established
that songbirds rely on their singing to attract mates and defend territory, it
had been thought that calls, like that of the parrot, did not operate in the
same way. However, this research indicates that the adaptability of the call of
the male budgie is a vital trait when it comes to successful mating.

Budgies, African Greys and Macaws
are well known for their ability to learn words and phrases, with some reports
indicating vocabularies in the vicinity of 1,000 words for the more
accomplished birds.

The only species of parrot to occur
in the wild in Cayman is the Cayman Parrot. The two subspecies, the Grand Cayman
Parrot and the Cayman Brac Parrot, are both unique to the Cayman Islands and
found nowhere else in the world.

“Cayman Parrots, along with all
wild birds in the Cayman Islands, are currently fully protected under the
Animals Law,” said Mat Da Costa-Cottam, manager of the Terrestrial Ecology Unit
of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.

Under section 78 of the Animals
Law, whoever hunts any protected animal, has in his possession any protected
animal or part thereof, or takes or has in his possession the nest or egg of
any protected animal is guilty of an offence.

According to Mr. Da Costa-Cottam,
the only species that may be taken are game bird species – the white-winged
dove, white-crowned pigeon and blue-winged teal.

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