Mimicry is fundamental to learning songs and sounds. Fledgling wild birds begin to mimic their parents and others of their species from an early age. Certain bird species learn to mimic the sound of other bird species. Wild birds mimic in order to attract mates and as a survival strategy. A bird's ability to understand and speak the language of another species can be of value in nature.
African Grey Parrot
These medium-sized parrots from the rainforests of West and Central Africa are highly sought after as companion birds because of their ability to mimic. A parrot mimics the voice of its owner because the sounds interest it and because it receives attention by making these sounds. African grey parrots can mimic up to 2,000 different words and sounds and they are often exact enough to fool their owners. These parrots typically mimic sounds they hear on a regular basis, such as doorbells, telephones and the barking of dogs.
The lyrebird is native to southeastern Australia. Male lyrebirds partake in a bizarre courtship ritual in which they construct a dirt mound in the middle of an area of forest. The courting bird then impresses his would-be mate by mimicking a huge variety of sounds. The lyrebird mimics not only the individual songs of other bird species but any sound it has heard, including the noise made by chainsaws and the sounds of falling trees. Individual lyrebirds which live near people are able to mimic trains, fire alarms, vehicles, crying infants and adult human speech.
Indian mynahs, which are native of India, Thailand, China and Sri Lanka, are highly sought after for their ability to mimic sounds and voices. The greater Indian hill mynah and the Java hill mynah are recognized as the most proficient talkers among the 12 subspecies of mynahs. Both races are able to speak with the same tone and clarity of speech as the humans they are mimicking. For this reason, both subspecies were captured in huge numbers for the pet trade. Of the two races, the Java hill mynah has the more powerful voice.
The mockingbird's scientific name translates into "many-tongued mimic." These little North American songbirds are able to perfectly mimic at least three dozen other bird species and numerous animals as well. The mockingbird can also mimic certain musical instruments, bells and the sound of doors opening.