This endangered bird has lost its song in Australia

Everyone seems to know the song except you.

People who sing karaoke know the feeling. So do birds, and this is a major problem for one bird species in Australia.

As the population of the critically endangered regent-honey theater has declined over the years, some young birds could no longer find older people to teach them to sing, reports a new study. As a result, the birds failed to learn the songs they needed for courtship and other evolutionary matters.

They try to compensate by imitating songs from other species of birds. But because female regent honey children are not easily moved by unfamiliar melodies, the courtesy ritual is doomed to fail.

‘We find that some men, if they do not get together, just spend their whole day singing in search of a mate,’ said Ross Crates, the paper’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra said.

A failed attempt or two is not a reproductive problem for a healthy population. But for a species with an estimated 200 to 400 members spread over an area in the south-east of Australia that is larger than the United Kingdom, the loss of singing culture could be a precursor to extinction.

The study was published in the academic journal on Wednesday Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It analyzed the observation of wild regent-honey theater from July 2015 to December 2019 and the recordings of the field from the 1980s to the present.

The researchers found that 12 percent of the male regent-honey art in the study failed to learn songs that are specific to their own species. The departure from the ‘regional cultural norm’ was accompanied by reduced reproductive success, and it did not help to sing the songs of other birds.

“It’s an excellent piece of work that tells a terrible story,” said David Watson, a professor of ecology at Charles Sturt University in Australia who was not involved in the research, about the new study.

“These are carefully executed scientific, reasonable, and evidence-based inferences that describe in a few short pages what the extinction of a species sounds like,” Professor Watson said in an email. “It does not happen with a bang, but with a slow, elongated whimper.”

The findings underscore the importance of considering the cultural diversity of animals in conservation studies, said Kristina Paxton, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. study the songs of Hawaiian forest birds and was not involved in Australian research.

“This study contributes to a growing understanding that in many animals, such as humans, the loss of cultural identity can have a major impact on their ability to continue,” she added.

Regent honey cats are a social species that once traveled in large herds and ate with flowering eucalyptus and myrtle trees over an area in Australia from about Melbourne to Brisbane. They sing not only for mating for each other, but also to mark territory and give tips on where they can get food.

But as temperate bushveld in Australia has been cleared in recent decades, the population has declined – according to government data from about 1,500 birds in the late 1980s to about a fifth. The species has also lost field battles with competitors such as the noisy miner, a fellow honeycomer known for his aggressive behavior.

A century ago, there were ‘many regent honey children to stand up against the noisy miners’, said Mick Roderick, a program manager for the advocacy group Birdlife Australia. “But now, because there are literally only a few and a few here – it’s so rare that they only put ducks.”

A male regent-honey theater usually makes a ‘warbly sound’ similar to that of a small turkey, and slaps its beak while singing, Mr. Crates said. But when young males do not find mentors to learn from, they try to imitate the songs of other species, including one that sounds “metallic” and one that resembles a repetitive whistle.

Mr. Crates said a useful human analogy would be the indigenous societies in Australia and the United States, whose languages ​​were lost after the population became too sparse to sustain them.

‘It’s nice to be able to speak two languages,’ he said, ‘but if it’s at the expense of speaking your first language and you can not get along with your friends and family – or with someone you might want to. going out – it has a cost. ‘

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