- The function of vocal mimicry is often a mystery, but our recent work shows that brown thornbills mimic different alarm calls in different contexts, and use mimicry to deceptive predators that are attacking their young:
- Igic, B. & Magrath, R. D. 2014. A songbird mimics different heterospecific alarm calls in response to different types of threat. Behavioral Ecology, 25: 538-548. Thornbills used different types of mimicry in different contexts, implying that mimicry can have multiple function. Furthermore, although adults often mimic appropriate alarm calls according to the types of predator, they use "inappropriate" alarm calls when defending their nest against predators, suggesing deception.
- Igic, B., McLachlan, J., Lehtinen, I. & Magrath, R. D. 2015. Crying wolf to a predator: deceptive vocal mimicry by a bird protecting young. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 282: 20150798. This paper shows experimentally that thornbill parents do deceive nest predators by mimicking a chorus of "hawk" alarm calls from up to four species. This simulates the presence of a hunting hawk, and fools a major nest predator into stopping attack and sometimes fleeing. The work has been extensively covered in the media worldwide; see the link under News.
- Our review of vocal mimicry surveys current knowledge of vocal mimicry in the light of a new conceptual framework, which unifies the study of vocal mimicry and the well-established study of other types of mimicry, such a visual Batesian mimicry.
- Dalziell, A. H., Welbergen, J. A., Igic, B. & R. D. Magrath. 2015. Avian vocal mimicry: a unified conceptual framework. Biological Reviews, 90: 643-658.
- Our paper in Biology Letters shows that scrubwren parents take nestling vulnerability into account when deciding whether to give alarm calls to warn their young about predators. This shows that birds, and not just primates, consider audience vulnerability when giving alarm calls. The findings were reported in the media: 'Birds decide when to call and not call' ABC Science, 16 October 2013.
- Haff TM, Magrath RD. 2013. To call or not to call: parents assess the vulnerability of their young before warning them about predators. Biology Letters 9: 20130745.
- Another paper on lyrebirds created a real song and dance in the media (see News link). Detailed analysis of video and audio of superb lyrebirds dancing in the wild shows that they coordinate a repertoire of songs with a repertoire of dance moves. We speculate that these dances are challenging to perfect, and could form a target of selection during female mate choice.
- Dalziell, A.H., Peters, R.A., Cockburn, A., Dorland, D.D., Maisey, A.C. & Magrath, R.D. 2013. Dance choreography is coordinated with song repertoire in a complex avian display. Current Biology, 23 (12): 1132-1135.