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BirdNote®: Thick-Billed Euphonia: Deceitful Mimic

Air Date: Week of

The Thick-Billed Euphonia is a songbird native to South Africa. (Photo: © Brennan Mulrooney)

DECEITFUL MIMIC: The Thick-billed Euphonia is a songbird in South America who uses its power of vocal mimicry to hoodwink other birds into chasing off predators. BirdNote's Mary McCann reports on this tiny trickster.


CURWOOD: Bird calls can serve many functions. Attract a mate, defend a territory and as BirdNote’s Mary McCann reports fool a neighbor.

Thick-billed Euphonia - Deceitful Mimic

[Northern Mockingbird song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/94375, 0.07-.14]
Northern Mockingbirds, the continent’s most proficient copycats, can learn to mimic the sounds of just about any other bird within earshot. 
But they mimic to show off, not to deceive. Males with the greatest repertoire are the first to attract mates — that’s the payoff. If a mockingbird imitates a cardinal song, it is unlikely any cardinals are fooled in the process. No harm, no foul, no deceit intended.
[Thick-billed Euphonia song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/199537, 0.04-.08]
But a tiny songbird in South America called the Thick-billed Euphonia does employ what scientists call “deceitful mimicry,” a very rare trait among birds. When frightened by a predator near its nest, a Thick-billed Euphonia imitates the alarm calls of other birds nesting nearby. This stirs them into action, and they rush in to harass the predator, maybe chasing it off while leaving their own nests in peril. [Thick-billed Euphonia song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/199537, 0.04-.08]
The euphonia, meanwhile, sits tight. 
Maybe shouting out a few more bogus alarms, while others do the dirty work. 

The Euphonia mimics the distress calls of other birds when a predator is nearby. (Photo: Felix Uribe, CC)


Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Northern Mockingbird [94375] recorded by W L Hershberger. Thick-billed Euphonia recorded by David L Ross Jr.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Written by Bob Sundstrom
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org    June 2015/2020   Narrator: Mary McCann
ID#      TBEU-01-2015-06-24 TBEU-01        
[Thick-billed Euphonia song, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/199537, 0.04-.08]
Sources: http://www.bl.uk/listentonature/specialinterestlang/langofbirds8.html


CURWOOD: For pictures flock on over to the Living on Earth website, loe.org



Listen to this story on the BirdNote® website


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