ScienceShot: Old Sparrows Are Mocking Birds

If you get too close to an old song sparrow (Melospiza melodia), prepare to be mocked. The birds mimic elements of the songs of those who encroach on their territory—a taunt known as song sharing that says, "I've got my eye on you." Young birds don't take part in this parody, however, according to a study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Instead, audio recordings reveal that they sing a random tune. Song sharing often leads to a fight, and the researchers suspect that the youngsters don't do it because they're insecure about their battle prowess. The old timers, on the other hand, know that they can hold their own.

Sounds of Old Song Sparrows

Song 1

An older song sparrow sings a song with highly shared elements.

Song 2

A neighboring sparrow mimics the older sparrow's song.

Song 3

A young sparrow sings its own song.

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