Some food for thoughts on bird imitations

Some food for thoughts on bird imitations

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 :

Linnet (left) and Red-throated Pipit (right). Though the sounds are quite similar to the ear, the sonagrams are clearly different. Note that the Linnet doesn’t show the buzzy appeareance (with a “zigzag” or “teeths” pattern) characteristic of the descending leg in the raspy flight call of Red-throated Pipit


European Siksin (Left) and Richard’s Pipit (right). The global shape of the two calls are pretty similar, yet the call of the Siskin looks more blurry. Indeed, the imitation looks like it is based on the overlay of several sounds, and not a monobloc unit like the original Richard’s Pipit call)






One thought on “Some food for thoughts on bird imitations

  1. Hi, Mr Birdsoundmaster 1st class !
    Looks and sounds quite well with those sonograms of Siksins and Siskins. Alas, I don’t have time to spit it out, ne serait-ce que parce que je ne vois pas l’image de ces deux? espèces pourvue de leurs noms respectifs en langue Si (scientifique internationale), F ou NL.
    Avec mes amitiés,

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