Australian duck mimics sounds—and slings insults

Australia’s musk ducks are able to repeat sounds they learned as hatchlings. Credit: JJ Harrison

Not many animals are able to learn vocalizations. Parrots, hummingbirds and some songbirds can. So can whales, seals, bats and elephants. Ducks had never made that list, but researchers recently found evidence of an Australian musk duck mimicking the sounds it learned as a hatchling in captivity. A pony snorting. A door slamming. And a former caretaker snapping, “You bloody fool.”

“Vocal learning is a rare and special trait, so that makes this duck particularly special,” Carel ten Cate at Leiden University in the Netherlands tells New Scientist.

Ten Cate tracked down a retired scientist who had old audio clips of a 4-year-old musk duck (Biziura lobata) raised on a nature reserve making these vocalizations. He verified the phenomenon in a study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Listen to the duck’s vocalizations in the clip below.