Italian scientists have listened to hundreds of audio and video vocal recordings from a large captive colony of African penguins in an effort to understand what the birds are saying. It turns out to be very little.
The team, led by Livio Favaro from the University of Torino, found that the adults used four vocalisations to communicate, juveniles just two (both of which apparently mean “I’m hungry!”).
The four adult vocalisations are used as a contact call emitted by isolated birds, an agonistic call used in aggressive interactions, an ecstatic display song uttered by single birds during the breeding season, and a mutual display song vocalised by pairs at their nests.
Scientists already knew the birds could communicate but this research fills a gap in what previously had been only basic descriptions of the sounds they used.
Favaro says that, since the colony is captive, he can’t be sure his team has identified all possible vocalisations of the endangered seabirds, which could be more articulate in the wild.
The full paper was published by PLOS ONE and can be found here.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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