The birds re-learning their love songs

Each species of bird has its own unique song, which it learns as a chick from its parents. © Getty

Can science save the regent honeyeaters? These rare songbirds are so endangered that there are not enough to teach their chicks to sing. But researchers in Australia could have a solution.

What’s happening

Dr Crates was confused. The bird he was watching had a black head, a speckled belly and a lemon-yellow tail. He was sure it was the rare regent honeyeater.

But it was acting strangely. It was making the wrong noise. This little bird sounded exactly like a noisy friarbird.

Find out more

Just like children learn to speak by copying adults, chicks learn their songs by spending time with older birds. But one Australian species is learning the wrong song.

Regent honeyeaters are endangered. There are only 300 left in the wild and not enough older birds to teach the younger ones to sing. Instead, chicks are learning from other species.

This is a problem because male honeyeaters use their songs to meet a mate. Without their special song, they find it hard to find a partner and have chicks.

Dr Crates and his team are now using recordings to teach honeyeaters their own song.

“We hope that if they hear what they should be singing, they will learn to sing it themselves,” he says.

Can science save the regent honeyeaters?

Some say…

Yes! By playing the songs to the birds, the team will be able to teach young birds the song that is so important to their survival. If they continue, they will be able to build populations back. Before long, there could be thousands of honeyeaters back in the wild.

Others think…

Not by itself. The honeyeaters are only forgetting how to sing because they are endangered. If we really want to save them, we have to make them safer. This means protecting their natural habitat. It means making rules against harming them. Teaching them songs will only help them a little. To help them thrive we must stop harming them.

You Decide

  1. Whose job is it to protect endangered animals?

Activities

  1. Research a bird of your choice and make a fact file about it including facts such as population numbers, habitat and food. As a class, put your files together into a guide to world birds.

Some People Say...

“Humankind must learn to understand that the life of an animal is in no way less precious than our own.”

Paul Oxton

What do you think?

Word Watch

Speckled
To be marked with small spots.
Regent honeyeater
A breed of honeyeater bird with black and yellow feathers. They used to be found all over eastern Australia. Now, they are mostly found in the states of Victoria and New South Wales.
Noisy friarbird
Another bird in the honeyeater family. It is bigger than the regent honeyeaters and is easily recognisable because it has no feathers on its head.
Endangered
A plant or animal that is in danger of disappearing forever. Regent honeyeaters are dying because humans have destroyed much of their natural homes in forests.
Species
A group of organisms – animals, plants or cells – that are able to reproduce. Dogs are a species. So are humans.
Mate
To come together for breeding and making young.
Habitat
Somewhere that a plant or animal lives. Regent honeyeaters live in forests and eat nectar from eucalyptus and mistletoe flowers.
Thrive
To grow or develop very well.

Subjects

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