Singing the Dinner Bell!
Okay, this wave of “animals communicating in crazy ways” is getting a bit overwhelming. Just when I think I’ve heard about the coolest adaptations of animal “language”, I find something better. We’ve seen a whale mimicking human speech, an elephant (sort of) speaking Korean, and now this story about birds and secretly coded dinner passwords…
The bird world is full of cuckoldry. That’s a crude word for the biological phenomenon called “brood parasitism”, where birds like cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. The invaders are cared for by unsuspecting bird parents, who are apparently not smart enough to see that one of these things is very clearly not like the other.
Finding food for screaming kids takes a lot of work, and it’s to a bird’s evolutionary advantage if they can focus on feeding their own offspring. The superb fairy wren (which is now so aptly named it’s not funny) developed a trick to solve that problem.
They sing a song to their young. While they are still in their eggs. And after they hatch, the chicks have to incorporate that song into their feeding chirps to get the goods! It’s almost too awesome to be true!
But it’s real science. Check out more over at Nature News, with a link there to the research paper and some of the bird songs. Very cool!