• Researchers studied parakeets that live in constantly changing flocks in Costa Rican forests
  • The birds use mimicry to initiate ‘conversations’ on the joining and merging of flocks, they say

It is often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But in the parrot world, it may be a way of striking up a conversation.

Scientists believe that parakeets found in the Costa Rican forests mimic each other to begin ‘discussions’ about creating new flocks and who will be boss.

The theory comes from a study of orange-fronted parakeets that live in constantly changing flocks.

University of Copenhagen researchers showed that the birds, which are green with orange foreheads, are more likely to respond to a call that sounds like their own.

They also reply more quickly.

This suggests that mimicry is used to initiate ‘conversations’, the journal PLoS ONE reports.

In the wild, these may be negotiations on the joining and merging of flocks.

Males may also use the process to establish the pecking order of the new flock, with the willing mimic perhaps more likely to be sub-ordinate.

Researcher Thorsten Balsby said: ‘It might mean a negotiation on dominance and who is going to lead the fused flock.’

Dr Balsby believes that some other species of parrot use mimicry for a similar purpose.

However, parrot owners should take note.

The researcher says that as pet birds are usually taught the sounds they mimic, any speech cannot be taken as an attempt to initiate conversation with their owner.

And while orange-fronted parakeets excel at mimicking members of their own species, they are poor at replicating the human voice.


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