A rare bird is so threatened that it is gradually losing its ability to sing, scientists say.
The honeymoon regent (Anthochaera phrygia), which once occurred in southeastern Australia, is now considered critically endangered – there are only 300 specimens of this species worldwide.
“You have no chance of walking around with other honeymooners learning what their singing should sound like,” explains researcher Ross Crates, who published his findings in the journal Proceedings B of the British Royal Society, a British institution dedicated to promoting scientific knowledge .
Crates, a member of the Difficult Birds Research Group at the National University of Australia at Canberra, is now trying to preserve the song of the birds by teaching captured honeymooners the songs of their wild relatives.
‘Needle in a haystack’
The original aim of the researchers was not to study the song of the meliphage regent. it was easy to find the birds.
“They’re so rare and the area they could take up is so large – probably ten times the size of the UK – that we were looking for a needle in a haystack,” says Crates.
During this careful search he noticed birds “singing strange songs”.
“They didn’t sound like a Melifago regent, they looked like different species,” he recalls.
Birds learn to sing as humans learn to speak.
“When young birds leave the nest and go out into the world, they need to bond with other older men so they can sing them and repeat this song over time,” explains Crates.
The honeymoon regent, who has lost about 90% of their habitat, now has such a small and dispersed population that young men simply cannot find other men and hear their singing.
“So they end up learning other kinds of songs,” added Crates.
The natural song of the Meliphage Regent basically “disappeared” in 12% of the population, the survey found.
Teaching birds to sing
In the interests of conservation, scientists use recordings from wild birds to teach trapped moths their own song.
There is already a project in place to release meliphage regents, which are from time to time bred in the wild to increase their population.
“But when these male birds sing a strange song, the females cannot mate with them,” explains Crates.
“So we hope that when you hear what to sing, you will learn to sing.”
The scientist adds that in trying to preserve the species, we need to look at these “cultural traits” as birdsong and other natural behaviors that are essential to the survival and development of animals in nature.