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Differences in short-term vocal learning in parrots, a comparative study

In: Behaviour
Authors:
Solveig Walløe aBehavioural Ecology Group, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

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Heidi Thomsen aBehavioural Ecology Group, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

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Thorsten J. Balsby bDepartment of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Vejlsøvej 25, 8600 Silkeborg, Denmark

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Torben Dabelsteen aBehavioural Ecology Group, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

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Parrots are renowned for their vocal learning abilities. Yet only few parrot species have been investigated and empirically proven to possess vocal learning abilities. The aim of this study was to investigate if short-term vocal learning may be a widespread phenomenon among Psittaciformes. Through an interactive experiment we compare the ability of four parrot species, the peach-fronted conure (Aratinga aurea), the cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus), the peach-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis) and the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), to vocally match playback of contact calls. All four species made an overall change to their contact call in response to the playback, and they also varied the degree of similarity with the playback call throughout the playback experiment. The peach-fronted conure showed the biggest overall changes to their contact calls by vocally matching the playback call and the budgerigar showed the least change. The cockatiel and the peach-faced lovebird showed intermediary levels of change making their calls overall less similar to the playback call. The peach-fronted conure responded with highest similarity to familiar individuals and the cockatiel responded with an overall higher similarity to female playback stimuli. Cockatiel males and budgerigar males responded with a higher call rate to playback than female conspecifics. Peach-faced lovebirds responded fastest to unfamiliar males. Based on the results we conclude that short-term vocal learning is a widespread phenomenon among parrots. The way short-term vocal learning is used however, differs between species suggesting that short-term vocal learning have different functions in different species.

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