Babbling Birds

Wait, what did you SQUAWK? I didn’t quite catch that!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

For humans speaking different languages, Google translate is a lifesaver! But for the many voices of the animal kingdom, does a natural translator exist?

Enter Claire Spottiswoode and Brian Wood from the University of Cambridge and University of California Los Angeles.

They examined partnerships between honeyguides, an African bird, and humans. Honeyguides eat beeswax BUT, to get to it, they wait for humans to open the hive! Over time, honeyguides learned when humans were calling them for dinner! Each region developed distinct calls passed down for generations.

Researchers played calls from two regions to honeyguides, along with a control sound of hunters talking.

In Mozambique, honeyguides were almost TWO times more likely to lead humans using a local call! In Tanzania, honeyguides were over THREE times more likely! Talk about communication skills!

Watch out for the birds – they know how to spread chatter!

References: Spottiswoode, C. N., & Wood, B. M. (2023). Culturally determined interspecies communication between humans and honeyguides. Science, 382(6675), 1155–1158.