African Bird Shouts False Alarms to Deceive and Steal, Study Shows

In the Kalahari, Drongos excel at tricking other species with a repertoire of 51 false alarm calls.

For starlings and meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, the fork-tailed drongo, a songbird with glossy black feathers and garnet-red eyes, is like the neighborhood dog: a trustworthy pal that's always on the alert and ready to warn you about dangerous predators. Except when it's lying. Because sometimes drongos, which are about the size of a scrub jay, make false alarm calls, causing their listeners to drop whatever juicy morsels they were dining on and flee the scene. Meanwhile the deceptive birds have swooped in and made off with their victim's meal.

... sometimes the birds call "hawk" too often, and like the boy in Aesop's fables who cried "wolf" one too many times, they discover that no one's paying attention.

Now researchers report in Science that when that happens, the clever birds deploy another trick: They imitate their victim's alarm call or that of another species. ... drongos are paying surprisingly close attention to their target's responses to their calls—perhaps even employing a type of sophisticated cognition that researchers usually reserve for humans only.

"It's the most sophisticated example of vocal deception, outside of my own species, that I've ever seen."

Drongos have an arsenal of alarm calls of numerous species, including birds and mammals, ... Some of those species make a variety of warning calls (different alerts for hawks, for instance, or jackals), as do the drongos—and the birds mimic these as well, giving them a total of 51 different alarm calls.

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Thank you Ruth




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