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Biol Lett. Oct 23, 2010; 6(5): 626–629.
Published online Mar 17, 2010. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2010.0093
PMCID: PMC2936137
Vocal mimicry in male bowerbirds: who learns from whom?
Laura A. Kelley1* and Susan D. Healy2,3
1Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK
2School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9GP, UK
3School of Biology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9GP, UK
*Author for correspondence (l.a.kelley/at/
Received January 28, 2010; Accepted February 23, 2010.
Vocal mimicry is one of the more striking aspects of avian vocalization and is widespread across songbirds. However, little is known about how mimics acquire heterospecific and environmental sounds. We investigated geographical and individual variation in the mimetic repertoires of males of a proficient mimic, the spotted bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus maculatus. Male bower owners shared more of their mimetic repertoires with neighbouring bower owners than with more distant males. However, interbower distance did not explain variation in the highly repeatable renditions given by bower owners of two commonly mimicked species. From the similarity between model and mimic vocalizations and the patterns of repertoire sharing among males, we suggest that the bowerbirds are learning their mimetic repertoire from heterospecifics and not from each other.
Keywords: vocal mimicry, geographical variation, repertoire
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