Vocal mimicry and display

We study the acoustic accuracy, context and possible functions of avian vocal mimicry.

Many bird mimic the calls or songs of other species, but in most cases we do not know the function of such mimicry. Mimicry is sometimes thought be mistaken copying of other species sounds, as a non-adaptive side effect of the mechanism of learning conspecific songs. Our recent review suggests otherwise, and suggests many avenues for research. We have examined the acoustic accuracy, context and possible functions of mimicry. Field studies include superb lyrebirds, one of the world’s most celebrated mimics, and brown thornbills, perhaps the world’s least celebrated mimic - at least until recently! The work on lyrebirds has also revealed a remarkably complex song-and-dance display, in which repertoires of song are coordinated with repertoires of dance moves. Currently, I'm involved in a recently started project on Albert's lyrebirds, with Justin Welbergen, Anastasia Dalziell & Fiona Backhouse (Western Sydney University).

Related publications

  • 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.
  • Dalziell, A. H., Welbergen, J. A., Igic, B. & R. D. Magrath. 2014. Avian vocal mimicry: a unified conceptual framework. Biological Reviews, 90: 643-658.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Igic, B. & Magrath, R. D. 2013. Fidelity of vocal mimicry: identification and accuracy of mimicry of heterospecific alarm calls by the brown thornbill. Animal Behaviour, 85: 593-603.
  • Dalziell, A. H. & Magrath, R. D. 2012. Fooling the experts: accurate vocal mimicry in the song of the superb lyrebird, Menura novaehollandiae. Animal Behaviour, 83: 1401-1410.
  • See Media articles related to this project.


Anastasia Dalziell (University of Woolongong; Post-doctoral Fellow, Cornell University, USA; Visiting Fellow, Australian National University and Western Sydney University)

Justin Welbergen (Western Sydney University)

Brani Igic (Post-doctoral researcher)

Fiona Backhouse (PhD student, Western Sydney University)