mocking bird and car alarm

I was out for a run this morning in a wooded area and I heard that distinctive sound of a car alarm being engaged. The confusing thing was…there were no cars anywhere. Talk about a weird feeling there for a few minutes - “Twilight Zone” time. Then I heard it again and noticed it was sort of coming from the region around a certain tree. I walked up to the tree and looked up and sure enough it was a mocking bird. No he wasn’t getting out of a small automobile, he was making the sound vocally. It was rather sureal.

I’m sure there’s a lesson here somewhere, but me being me; I just haven’t grasped it yet.

I recently saw a report that Starlings, which are good mimics, have started copying the ringing of cell phones in some areas. Soem years ago I read an article by an ornithologist who was doing a study of hand-raised Starlings that she fostered out to several families. One learned to imitate a creaking door, another copied the recording on the family’s answering machine.

The Australian Lyrebird is also an outstanding mimic. Years ago I read an anecdote about them mimicking chain saws in a forest area that was being logged.

Try parrots. My friend Dan had a parrot that imitated all the construction noises outside the window, and also the speed-dial which was on speakerphone. That was a trip.

The bird also did a PERFECT rendition of the front door opening, closing, and Dan’s S.O. saying “Honey, I’m home.”

Too bad these wild birds which imitate car alarms, chainsaws, etc. don’t hear and imitate more beautiful sounds - classical music comes to mind. I guess they have to work with the material they’re given.

I own a parakeet that spends a lot of time in the bonus room, where the TV and DVD player are. One week I was home from school, sick as a canine, and decided I was going to watch the Alien series, since I didn’t have anything better to do.

I watched the whole series over the course of a day, and then thought, “ah, why not?” and watched Aliens again the next day.

Two or three weeks later, I’m going up to check on the bird, when I hear the sound of a pulse rifle firing. When I realized it was the parakeet, I started laughing hysterically.

The male Australian lyrebird (see Colibri’s post above) was featured in a TV Documentary a couple of years ago. I quote from David Attenborough’s The Life Of Birds, the book which accompanied the series:

Some (of the males) have territories close to those occupied by human beings and they incorporate the new sounds they hear coming from across their frontiers. So they include in their performances accurate imitations of such things as spot-welding machines, burglar alarms and camera motor drives.

This vocal dexterity was amply demonstrated on the episode is question, during which the Featured Bird also gave an excellent impression of a chain saw.

Also illustrated was the lyrebird’s apparent obsession with Tidiness. The males all have Display Mounds in the South Australian forest, and it seems that each Mound must be kept in pristine condition. Attenborough scattered leaves over one bird’s mound, and the male painstakingly removed all the leaves with its bill before giving its piece de resistance, a superb impression of a kookaburra, thereby pissing off all the potential Mrs Kookaburras who happened to be in the area.

Down in the Sherbrooke Forest (Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne), I have heard the Lyrebird emulate the sound of an automatic camera film winder thingy.

You know, the kshht, kshht, kshht, of the automatic film winder.

Very surreal.

One of the canonical rules of parrot ownership is to never ever ever let your parrot hear a car alarm, as it is irresistable and they will do it all the time forever.
I wonder if starlings and such have geographically discrete calls-- different populations with different traditonally learned calls related to their environment. Does that count as culture, I wonder?