A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B has revealed that the regent honeyeater has forgotten its song. The joyful bird, which was once abundant in South Eastern Australia, is losing its song because of the threat of extinction that it faces. There are only 300 birds of this species left globally. Due to the scarcity of the birds, their offspring are unable to learn and sing their natural melody.
Ross Crates, one study author and a member of the Difficult Bird Research Group at the Australian National University, said that the birds forget their language when they cannot gather near others of the same species.
“They don’t get the chance to hang around with other honeyeaters and learn what they’re supposed to sound like,” Crates explained.
The discovery came accidentally. In their research, the authors were simply looking to find regent honeyeaters because they have become critically endangered.
“They’re so rare and the area they could occupy is so big — probably 10 times the size of the U.K. — that we were looking for a needle in a haystack,” Crates explained.
It was during their research that they noticed the birds singing unusual songs. The team said that approximately 12% of the regent honeyeater population has forgotten how to sing its original melody.
Crates explained that the young birds need to associate with other honeyeaters to learn how to sing their specific song. If they do not find other birds to mingle with, they cannot commit the song to memory.
“As young birds, when they leave the nest and go out into the big wide world, they need to associate with other, older males so they can listen to them sing and repeat that song over time,” Crates said. “But if those male birds are singing a weird song, the females might not mate with them. So we hope that if they hear what they should be singing, they will learn to sing it themselves.”
On the flip side, the researchers shared that they have started training captive regent honeyeaters using recordings of their natural song. They plan to release the trained birds back to the wild with the hope of restoring their population and the birds’ song.
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