Updated Tuesday, November 28, 2023 – 14:29
Like all parrots, these birds have an exceptionally flexible vocal repertoire and can imitate and learn new sounds throughout their lives.
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In it half a century Since the Argentine parrot arrived in Europe and spread throughout the continent, the species has developed different dialects that vary depending on the countries and cities.
Scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Animal Behavior and Evolutionary Anthropology compared the calls made by these birds – whose name is Myiopsitta monk– in eight cities in four European countries and discovered that these parrots now “sound” differently in each city. The work is published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.
“Like humans, Argentine parrots in Europe have unique ways of communicating depending on where they live,” the lead author says in a statement. Stephen TyndelPhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior.
Europe does not have any native parrot species. However, several species, including the monk parakeet, have established populations after some individuals They escaped from the pet trade. Originally from South America, Argentine parakeets or monk parakeets now exist in large numbers in several European countries.
Like all parrots, these birds have a exceptionally flexible vocal repertoire and they can imitate and learn new sounds throughout their lives. Because the invasive parrot has recently spread to Europe, Tyndel says, “Argentine parrots are the perfect test tube to study how complex communication evolves in a species other than our own.”
To find out if these birds in Europe developed dialects, that is, calls that differ depending on where the individuals live, the researchers recorded Argentine parakeets in eight cities in Spain, Belgium, Italy and Greece. A novel statistical method allowed them to test whether the parrots’ calls were different from one city to another, and also whether the calls were different between parks within the same city. “We wanted to know not only whether different dialects exist, but also on what geographic scale they occur,” says Tyndel.
They discovered that parrots did have different dialects in each city. In Brussels, for example, they had contact calls that were particularly different to those in other cities, says lead co-author Simeon Smeelescientist affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
For the most part, the dialects differ in the frequency modulation structure within each call, “which is very difficult for humans to hear,” Smeele adds.
There are no dialects in the same city
But when the scientists looked for dialects within each city’s parks, they found no differences. The parrots did not have unique calls from one park to another. “Taken together, this suggests that parrot dialects diverged early when the birds invaded European cities, but later did not change significantly during this period,” says Tyndel.
The results were surprising, Tyndel says. “This suggests that dialects emerged through a passive process (birds copying birds they make small mistakes and therefore cities slowly become different from each other or that they were different to begin with and that these differences were maintained over time.”
But the team has not ruled out that dialects could also be formed through an active process that could help birds with social communication, such as recognition of group mates. In parks, Argentine parrots live in closely grouped nests. Researchers believe there could be vocal differences, like slang, in these smaller social units.
“We think dialects could be used to communicate who is part of which nest group, like a password“says Smeele. In the future, the team plans to discover how individuals learn from each other and whether smaller groups display dialects within the parks.
“This will contribute to our understanding of parrot communication,” says Tyndel, “and provide insight into the ways in which complex communication is linked to the complex social lives of humans and animals.”
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