Listen to an Australian musk duck repeatedly say ‘you bloody fool’ after learning to imitate a human

Listen to an Australian musk duck repeatedly say ‘you bloody fool’ after learning to imitate a human

A duck berating you is probably not what you expected to hear today, but one Australian musk duck has proved that it’s a very plausible scenario.

Ripper, a male musk duck reared who lived more than three decades ago, was recorded repeating the phrase “you bloody fool” during its mating ritual.

It is believed to be the first documented account of a duck mimicking a human.

As a result of the recordings, and others, scientists have now added ducks to the small number of animals that can learn to mimic humans, based on what they hear as infants. With this skill, they join parrots, hummingbirds, certain songbirds, whales, seals, bats, elephants and humans.

Hilariously, it seems the duck, who was hand reared by humans at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, around 25 miles from the capital of Canberra, Australia, had learned the catchphrase from its former caretaker.

Though, there are some question marks over whether Ripper – who was four years old at the time – was actually saying “food”.

Professor Carel ten Cate, who unearthed the recordings and led subsequent research on it, said: “I can imagine that the caretaker would jokingly say, ‘Okay, here is your bloody food.’”

Ripper’s recordings were first documented by retired Australian researcher Dr Peter Fullagar. But ten Cate came across the recordings after finding an obscure reference to a talking duck in a book on bird vocalisations.

Only after hearing the recordings of Ripper first-hand did ten Cate believe it. “When I read it at first I thought, ‘it’s a hoax, it can’t be true.’ But it turned out to be true,” he said.

The study also looked at a second duck that Fullagar had recorded imitating a different duck species.

The researchers also noted at least two other musk ducks with similar skills of imitating sounds, including a snorting pony, a coughing caretaker and a squeaky door.

So if a musk duck calls you a “bloody fool” don’t be too offended – as it's clearly something it’s picked up from someone else.

Read the research in the published journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

The Conversation (0)