Musical passwords given by miniature birds
May 30, 2021 1:57 PM   Subscribe

A tiny mother bird, learned to give her unborn babies a password so they wouldn't die. A musical password. The Superb Fairy-Wren sings to her eggs. The unborn baby birds learn to sing a particular musical password on hatching.

The mother Superb Fairy-Wren singing her password.

Superb fairywren: Like other fairywrens, the superb fairywren is notable for several peculiar behavioural characteristics; the birds are socially monogamous and sexually promiscuous, meaning that although they form pairs between one male and one female, each partner will mate with other individuals and even assist in raising the young from such pairings. Male wrens pluck yellow petals and display them to females as part of a courtship display.
posted by nickyskye (20 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow that's cool! I had no idea baby birds could hear inside the egg!
posted by starfishprime at 2:11 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Superb Fairy-Wren

You have to give it to bird namers for just really not hiding their feelings, whatever they may be.
posted by trig at 2:29 PM on May 30 [9 favorites]


See also r/superbowl.
posted by Splunge at 3:04 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Soooo... what happens to the other chicks after the mother figures out that she has a cuckoo chick in her nest because it doesn't have the right call?

Or are the other chicks already dead by then?
posted by clawsoon at 4:37 PM on May 30


Interesting that the system makes room for what some would call intraspecific cooperation and others would call cuckoldry.
posted by clawsoon at 4:45 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Soooo... what happens to the other chicks
Maybe a just-hatched cuckoo is too weak to kick the eggs out and an unfed one never gains the strength it would need to kick out eggs or hatchlings?
posted by Don Pepino at 4:51 PM on May 30


Unfortunately for the host offspring, I think I recall learning that kicking them out of the nest is basically the first thing a cuckoo does upon hatching.
posted by biogeo at 6:06 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


My edition of "Tasmanian Birds" says the fairy-wren family structure is a group of females with a single male, which is how I have usually seen them when feeding - the vivid male and a group of females.

The observation may be distorted as the male is so vivid - but he seems to act as lookout, while the females concentrate on foraging.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 6:09 PM on May 30


There is an old riddle song with a line "I gave my love a chicken that has no bone..." and goes on in the next verse to ask, "How can there be a chicken that has no bone?" The answer in the third verse is, "A chicken when it's pipping, it has no bone."

What the heck is pipping? In many species of birds the eggs all hatch at the same time even though they may be laid over a period of days. This requires the chicks in the shells to coordinate to mature at different rates, with the first laid ones slowing down so they are all ready to break out of the shell at the same time. And the way they do this is by making a tiny faint peeping sound which can be heard by the other chicks through the shells. This noise is called pipping. A chicken when it is pipping is not hatched yet and the bones are still rubber cartilage.

Unborn birds are listening very hard to everything around them, the same like unborn human babies who can recognize their parent's voices and the language that the family speaks at home when they are newborn.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:49 PM on May 30 [28 favorites]


I remember reading in Robert Ricklef's textbook Ecology about a Centrral American species of Orependola in which the relationship with the cuckoos which parasitize them had moved a long way toward symbiosis (or mutualism, or whatever the term of art is now) because the Orependola chicks were attacked by a nest mite which would kill better than two thirds of them, but when there was also a cuckoo egg in the nest the cuckoo would hatch and immediately begin compulsively grooming any nestmates, which reduced to low levels the death rate due to the mites (I don't recall any mention in this account of who groomed the groomer!).

The behavior of the female cuckoo was very unusual as well: instead of flying in like a stealth bomber, dropping her payload and getting out of there, she would show up, hang around looking at the nests while the Oropendola ignored her, then make her deposit and leave in no particular hurry.
posted by jamjam at 7:00 PM on May 30 [10 favorites]


There is an old riddle song with a line "I gave my love a chicken that has no bone..." and goes on in the next verse to ask, "How can there be a chicken that has no bone?" The answer in the third verse is, "A chicken when it's pipping, it has no bone."

That's an interesting song to bring up in discussion of encryption. I once saw an anthology -- maybe even an older edition of the Norton Anthology way back in high school -- where the gloss did not mention that all the items given to "my love" in the first verse (including, from memory, 'a rose without a thorn' and 'a peach that had no stone', were contemporary metaphors for the vulva.
posted by jamjam at 7:29 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure they had peaches, it could have been a cherry or another fruit.
posted by jamjam at 7:33 PM on May 30


So... when do we get a human-to-animal translator app or something so we can talk to various animals?
posted by aniola at 7:33 PM on May 30


aniola, that assumes they'd want to talk to us.
posted by brundlefly at 7:57 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


That's an interesting song to bring up in discussion of encryption. I once saw an anthology -- maybe even an older edition of the Norton Anthology way back in high school -- where the gloss did not mention that all the items given to "my love" in the first verse (including, from memory, 'a rose without a thorn' and 'a peach that had no stone', were contemporary metaphors for the vulva.

posted by jamjam

The version I learned is generally called "I Gave My Love a Cherry (that has no stone)," and the "Cherry when it is blooming, it has no stone."

But the last riddle was "I gave my love a baby that has no crying," which is sometimes bowdlerized to "A baby when it's sleeping, it has no crying," where the original answer was "A baby in the getting, it has no crying." - In other words the gift is the sex that results in the conception. The song is indeed very bawdy in many versions and is very much about sex and birth.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:08 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]


Now that you've reminded me, I believe I've seen the mild reveal version with "a baby when it's sleeping, it has no crying", but probably not the more brazen "A baby in the getting, it has no crying", and I find myself wondering whether there could be a faint resonance with the KJV Bible's "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth..." in that one.
posted by jamjam at 2:36 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]


Off the topic of cuckoos or trans-shell learning, but on the topic of superb birds and oblique references to sex: "the [cute and terrifying] otherwordly, bouncing, black-and-blue smiley-face courtship dance" of the Superb Bird-of-Paradise. (Warning: "smiley" is not the word I would have chosen, though it's what it made my face do.)
posted by trig at 6:05 AM on May 31


I’m confused about one thing. If the Cuckoo lays its egg two to three days before the other chicks hatch, how does it hatch first?
posted by sjswitzer at 8:08 AM on May 31


Superb Fairy-Wren

You have to give it to bird namers for just really not hiding their feelings, whatever they may be.


I just wish they had the pseudo-Latin tradition of botany so the bird could be Superbum Fairy-Wren because it would be so apt. Wrens are butt flashers!
posted by srboisvert at 9:47 AM on May 31


This seems to be the answer to my question.
posted by sjswitzer at 8:42 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


« Older psychologist, diplomat, information clerk...   |   L. Ron Hubbard + Leni Riefenstahl = ? Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.