Leiden University scientist Carel Ten Cate said that what was interesting about the vocal expression of the waterfowl, nicknamed “Ripper”, was not so much the message, but that he could imitate humans at all.
“It’s definitely based on the human voice, even though the pronunciation is a bit odd – which might be the Australian accent, I don’t know,” said Ten Cate, who published his findings in the Netherlands’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society biological research journal.
He said he had at first wondered whether the recordings, made in the 1980s. Living ornithologist Peter Fullagar and co-author of the paper recorded them. A sound archive has these recordings, occasionally referenced. Ten Cate rediscovered it while researching on vocal learning in birds.
Ten Cate said Ripper had a bit more in his repertoire. Because he could also make a noise like the sound of a door closing and its latch clicking.
Some species of animals, and notably birds such as parrots and songbirds, are capable of mimicking human speech. But the phenomenon is rare – if somewhat more common in animals raised by humans.
“To find a species quite outside these groups…in a talking duck, that’s quite extraordinary. So it’s an evolutionary occurrence for vocal learning,” Ten Cate said.
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