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Thick-billed Euphonia - Deceitful Mimic

A tiny bird that plays a potentially perilous trick
© Brennan Mulrooney View Large

Northern Mockingbirds can learn to mimic the sounds of just about any bird. They mimic to show off, not to deceive. But this Thick-billed Euphonia, a tiny songbird in South America, employs what scientists call “deceitful mimicry.” When frightened by a predator near its nest, a Thick-billed Euphonia imitates the alarm calls of other birds nesting nearby. This stirs them into action as they rush in to harass the predator. The euphonia, meanwhile, sits tight while others do the dirty work.

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Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Thick-billed Euphonia, Deceitful Mimic

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Northern Mockingbird song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/94375, 0.07-.14]

Northern Mockingbirds, the continent’s most proficient copycats, can learn to mimic the sounds of just about any other bird within earshot. 

But they mimic to show off, not to deceive. Males that sing with the greatest versatility are the first to attract mates — that’s the payoff. If a mockingbird imitates a cardinal song, it is unlikely any cardinals are fooled in the process. No harm, no foul, no deceit intended.

[Thick-billed Euphonia song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/199537, 0.04-.08]

But a tiny songbird in South America called the Thick-billed Euphonia does employ what scientists call “deceitful mimicry,” a very rare trait among birds. When frightened by a predator near its nest, a Thick-billed Euphonia imitates the alarm calls of other birds nesting nearby. This stirs them into action, and they to rush in to harass the predator, maybe chasing it off while leaving their own nests in peril. [Thick-billed Euphonia song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/199537, 0.04-.08]

The euphonia, meanwhile, sits tight. 

Maybe shouting out a few more bogus alarms, while others do the dirty work. 

For BirdNote, I'm Mary McCann.

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Northern Mockingbird [94375] recorded by W L Hershberger. Thick-billed Euphonia recorded by David L Ross Jr.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org    June 2015   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#      TBEU-01-2015-06-24 TBEU-01        

[Thick-billed Euphonia song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/199537, 0.04-.08]

Sources: http://www.bl.uk/listentonature/specialinterestlang/langofbirds8.html

http://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/wilson/v088n03/p0485-p0...

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