Monk Parakeets have unique voices so that they can identify each other

Humans have unique voices and can tell the difference between one person’s voice and another person’s voice (most of the time). Our friend next door sounds different from our teacher. 

The Monk Parakeet is the first bird species known to have multiple vocalisations within its colony of individuals, reports New Scientist magazine in February 2023. Having different individual voices in the parakeet colony means that they can tell the difference between their friends and their enemies.

Monk Parakeet

The Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) is a common, small, sub-tropical bird in the parrot family. It is also known as the Quaker Parrot. It is native to Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in South America.

The ability to have different voices is called a unique “voice-print” which helps individuals recognize other individuals in the flock or colony. Dolphins also have a voice-print when they communicate with each other. 

Scientists say that humans and dolphins are “complex communicators” and now they add the Monk Parakeet to the group.

Scientists studying the Monk Parakeet knew that each bird has a distinct regional dialect, but now they have found that they also have a unique voice-print.

Research scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany recorded more that 5,500 vocalisations from 229 wild Monk Parakeets living in a reserve near Barcelona, Spain. The researchers attached a coded band to each bird’s leg and monitored its vocalisations and acoustic features. 

There were five types of calls (sounds) that the parakeets made. The scientists found that the Monk Parakeet has distinct voice-prints in two of the five calls: (1) the short contact call when they announce their arrival in a group, and (2) the “trruup” call that rises in tone at the end, but scientists are unsure of its function.

Scientists are still learning why the Monk Parakeet has distinct voice-prints. Why is it important for them to know a friend from an enemy within their own colony? 

It might be due to their hierarchical society, and as Karl Berg, a scientist and assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) said, “Knowing friend from foe is likely a boon in the birds’ hierarchical society. The more birds can figure out sound, the better off they are. Information is power.”

Monk Parakeet
Monk Parakeet

Location of photographs: Paris Zoo, France

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


Journal referencebioRxiv, DOI: 10.1101/2023.01.20.524864

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