Charles Darwin once speculated that the human faculty of language may have come from songbirds. But in a new study that features a talking duck from Australia, it seems that the animal has learned the language from constantly hearing it from humans.
According to ZME Science, Dutch biologist Carel ten Cate from Leiden University was stunned when he heard the male musk duck talk. He looked for the renowned Australian scientist who first encountered the talking duck and was shown by footage of the muck duck vocalizing the sounds of the door slamming and squeaking, a snorting pony, a man coughing, and swearing "You bloody fool!"
Talking Duck Joins Exclusive Club of Birds
The Dutch biologist looked for more evidence that musk ducks could indeed mimic sounds from people and nature. This was documented in their paper, titled "Vocal Imitations and Production Learning by Australian Musk Ducks (Biziura lobata)," which was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B.
The paper describes how musk duck now belongs to an exclusive group of animals that can acquire vocalization through learning. In the past, this behavior was documented in hummingbirds, parrots, and some songbirds. Although, it was also recorded in mammals, such as some whales, dolphins, bats, and seals.
Professor ten Cate told IFL Science that the discovery of the talking duck, named Ripper, is valuable in understanding the origins of vocal learning. studying musk ducks and related species that cannot learn to vocalize will tell their differences and give insight as to how musk ducks could learn vocalizations.
It is believed that Ripper was called "blood fool" by its owner, which probably sank into his mind and explains why he could vocalize the phrase "You bloody fool!"
The team noted that musk ducks must have evolved much more recently that must have contributed to their ability to acquire vocalization. Ripper's case is the first scientifically verified case of a talking duck, which opens opportunities to investigate other birds that can learn the way they learned the language.
Animals Need Auditory Feedback to Learn Language
In a 2020 interview with the Dana Foundation, bioengineering assistant professor Michael Yartsev from the University of California, Berkeley said that most species have an innate ability to learn how to make sounds. However, only a few of them are vocal learners like humans.
He added that these types of animals need auditory feedback to mimic the right sounds, just as how Ripper learned to mimic the sounds in his environment. Yartsev's earlier studies in fruit bats showed that those isolated ones have different vocalizations from those who were raised normally.
Yartsev noted that vocalizations have some plasticity or the capacity to be modified. This means that animals adapt to vocalizations in a stable manner after a prolonged period.
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