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Do blackbirds mimic human whistling?

Sent in by: Brian Hill, Stonehill, Gloucestershire

Blackbirds are a common garden visitor and are without doubt, a highly vocal species capable of making a wide variety of calls and songs. During the breeding season, the song we are most familiar with is the rich fluid song made up of flute-like phrases or notes. Chances are, we may also hear a disturbed or agitated Blackbird emit a loud ‘tchook-tchook-tchook’ or ‘chink, chink, chink’ call.

The song repertoire of an adult blackbird is highly complex and is down to a bird’s individual inventive ability along with the species high capacity for learning. The variety within a bird’s song is also dependent on its age, its stage in the breeding season and the time of year. Song learning occurs throughout a blackbird’s life and reciprocal learning between neighbours can create local dialects.

A blackbirds' song is not just made up of repeated learned phrases from other blackbirds, blackbirds like a great many other birds, are superb mimics. Studies have shown that they are not only able to mimic other birds, but also domestic cats, as well as a variety of mechanical sounds. Blackbirds have even been recorded making the sound of a reversing lorry! It has also been noted that blackbirds can imitate human whistles either as a singular note or phrase. A bird may hear someone whistle and may replicate this sound in their song as it develops. Starlings are also well-known mimics and can do a passable imitation of a tawny owl as well as the sound of a spray can being shaken.

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