I have been recording a few unexpected imitations recently. Here are some surprising examples and some food for thoughts on this topic.
Three examples :
First let’s start with a well known imitator :
This Calandra Lark was imitating not less than 20 different species, including Meadow Pipit, Tawny Pipit, Richard’s Pipit, Greater Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Skylark, Bee-eater, Barn Swallow, Linnet or Serin.
Actually, this list of imitation fits pretty well to the list of the birds we have seen in the surroundings : listen to the Calandra Lark and you will know which birds are present in the area !
Now, a bit more confusing one :
This call made by a Common Linnet sounds a lot like the flight call of Red-throated Pipit. It would be hard to tell whether it is an intentional imitation or not, but I guess the unwary birder might be fooled !
And finally my favourite imitator :
This Eurasian Siskin was continuously imitating several species, including Richard’s Pipit and Long-tailed Tit. The imitations were included in its flight call. Not quite what you would expect from a Siskin !!!
Some thoughts about imitations and bird identification
These imitations raise serious questions about the reliability of using the sound to identify birds
Having spent quite a lot of time recording birds now, I believe that one can avoid the pitfalls of misidentifying an imitator bird by paying attention to two details :
1. Always listen to the sound in its context
Imitation are the best of bird sounds. Usually, birds imitate each other while singing, when they are at the climax of their creativity. Hence, an imitation almost never comes alone and isolated from other types of vocalizations. Before and after the imitation there should be some more classical calls that should raise your awareness.
2. Imitations are never perfect
If the ear might be fooled, the sonagrams usually show some differences between imitations and the original calls. Have a look at the sonagram of the previous examples :