Leiden researcher stumbles upon duck that can say "bloody fool"
Leiden researcher Carel ten Cate discovered an Australian Muscovy duck that can imitate sounds, including the words “bloody fool”. This is a rare phenomenon because it is not common that animals can imitate words.
Ten Cate is a professor of animal behavior at the Leiden University. He stumbled upon the Muscovy duck while reviewing studies of vocal learning among birds. During the research, he encountered a Muscovy duck that was raised by humans. The duck had learned how to say “you bloody fool”. The duck was also able to imitate other sounds, such as a door slamming shut.
“I wasn’t sure if it was serious”, Ten Cate said he thought in the beginning. “But I was intrigued because, if it was true, then that would be highly interesting for researchers.” Discovering vocal learning in a new group of animals can bring new insight into the circumstances and conditions under which the ability can evolve evolutionarily.
Other animals that are capable of vocal learning are whales, dolphins, elephants and bats. It was already known that certain birds such as parrots, songbirds and hummingbirds are capable of imitating sounds.
“Vocal learning is a rare and special trait”, Ten Cate said. Ducks split off evolutionary sooner than other birds. “That makes the finding surprising, also because duck brains differ quite a bit in structure from, for example, songbirds and parrots.”
Ten Cate said the discovery has now raised new questions.
The first time a musk duck that imitated sounds was tracked down was by Australian scientist Peter J. Fullager, over 30 years ago. He took note of a male musk duck that imitated a slamming door to attract females ducks.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times.