Context-dependent vocal mimicry in a passerine bird

Eben Goodale*, Sarath W. Kotagama

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


How do birds select the sounds they mimic, and in what contexts do they use vocal mimicry? Some birds show a preference for mimicking other species' alarm notes, especially in situations when they appear to be alarmed. Yet no study has demonstrated that birds change the call types they mimic with changing contexts. We found that greater racket-tailed drongos (Dicrurus paradiseus) in the rainforest of Sri Lanka mimic the calls of predators and the alarm-associated calls of other species more often than would be expected from the frequency of these sounds in the acoustic environment. Drongos include this alarm-associated mimicry in their own alarm vocalizations, while incorporating other species' songs and contact calls in their own songs. Drongos show an additional level of context specificity by mimicking other species' ground predator-specific call types when mobbing. We suggest that drongos learn other species' calls and their contexts while interacting with these species in mixed flocks. The drongos' behaviour demonstrates that alarm-associated calls can have learned components, and that birds can learn the appropriate usage of calls that encode different types of information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-880
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1588
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Alarm calls
  • Context-dependent mimicry
  • Dicrurus paradiseus
  • Mixed-species flocks
  • Mobbing calls
  • Vocal mimicry


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