It seems everyone knows the song except you …
People who sing karaoke know what it feels like. Apparently birds too and it’s a big problem for a bird species in Australia.
The honey regent population has declined so much over the years that it is now an endangered species. At the same time, according to a recent study, some of this bird’s cubs are unable to find older people to teach them to chirp. As a result, these birds have not learned the songs they need for mating rituals and other evolutionary matters.
They try to compensate for their ignorance by imitating the songs of other species of birds. But since female regent honeys are not easily moved by unfamiliar melodies, the mating ritual is doomed to failure.
“We found that some men sing all day long in search of a partner when they don’t have a partner,” said Ross Crates, lead study author and postdoctoral fellow at Australian National University in Canberra.
A failed affair or two wouldn’t be a reproductive problem in a healthy population, but for a species made up of 200 to 400 members scattered in an area of southeast Australia that is more extensive than the UK, the loss of the culture is theirs Chants could be what researchers have called “the harbinger of extinction”.
The study was published in the Royal Society B’s journal Proceedings on Wednesday. Wild honenons were sighted from July 2015 to December 2019 and field recordings of these animals from the 1980s to the present day were analyzed.
The researchers found that 12 percent of the male regent honeys in the study did not learn species-specific chirps. Deviating from the “cultural norm of the region” was associated with less reproductive success, and learning how to chirp from other birds did not help.
“It’s exquisite work that tells a terrible story,” said David Watson, an ecology professor at Charles Sturt University in Australia who was not involved in the research, of the new study.
“It is a science that is carried out with careful, reasonable, and evidence-based inferences, and in some pages describes the sound of a species becoming extinct,” Watson wrote in an email. “It’s not a roar, but a soft and gradual whimper.”
These findings underscore the importance of considering animal cultural diversity in conservation studies, said Kristina Paxton, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hawaii, Hilo Campus, who studied the song of Hawaiian forest birds but was not involved in Australian research.
“This study supports the growing understanding that the loss of cultural identity in many animals, as well as humans, can have profound effects on their ability to persist,” he added.
Regent honeys are a social species that lived on flowering eucalyptus and mistletoe trees in an area of Australia stretching roughly from Melbourne to Brisbane. These birds chirp not only to mate, but also to mark their territory and offer advice on where to find food.
As temperate forest areas have been cleared across Australia in the past few decades, the population of these birds has also declined – from around 1,500 birds in the late 1980s to a fifth of that number over two decades later. This species also began to lose turf fights with their competitors, such as the Noisy Miner, another honey bird known for its aggressive behavior.
A century ago, “there were plenty of regent honeys that could withstand the noisy miners,” said Mick Roderick, program manager at Birdlife Australia. “But now that there is literally just a couple here and a couple there – they are very rare – they have become easy targets.”
A regent with honey usually makes a little turkey-like gargle and “claps” its beak while singing, explains Crates. But when young men can’t find mentors to learn from, they try to mimic the chirping of other types, including one that sounds “metallic” and one that is like a repetitive hiss.
Crates said a proper human analogy would be that of the indigenous societies of Australia and the United States, whose languages have been lost because the populations have declined so much that it was no longer possible to preserve them.
“Being able to speak two languages is nice, but if it adversely affects your ability to communicate in your native language and you cannot interact with your friends and family, or with someone you want to date, then this has the case a price, “he said.