Anyone with a pet parrot knows that. You have to be very careful with swear words. Why? Because the bird may repeat it to visitors. But it’s not the only animal with the ability to learn vocal language. Hummingbirds, some songbirds, elephants, seals and whales can do it. Muscovy ducks (Biziura lobata). It is a wild waterfowl native to Australia. And it is the duck that can insult as human.
Apparently, captive-bred ducks can imitate sounds. Some, phrases like those said by this bird. The note was published by the magazine ‘New Scientist’. It was probably the catchphrase of a former owner: “You bloody fool!”. It can be translated as something like “You bloody fool!”.
Carel Ten Cate is a researcher at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. He heard the story of the talking duck and was naturally fascinated. He contacted the Australian scientist Peter J. Fullager, who had known about the case for 30 years. He had some audios in which ‘Ripper’, the famous duck, blurts out the insult when he gets aggressive. He even imitates the sound of a slamming door when trying to attract females. The specimen was raised in a reserve without the presence of other muscovy ducks.
The researcher verified the authenticity of this recording. He used software to confirm that the birds were repeating noises from their environment. In some cases, these were sounds they only heard in the first few weeks of life.
“I thought, ‘It must be a really good joke,'” Ten Cate tells New Scientist. But it actually comes from respected scientists and bird breeders. The reports are very reliable. These ducks are learning about vocalizations at a very early age.
The duck that can swear like a human is not the only phenomenon. Ten Cate has also discovered two muscovy ducks raised in the UK. They sound like a snorting pony, human coughs and the creaking of a door. The cases are few because these birds are too aggressive to be kept in a garden.
So, if you hear ‘Ripper’ swearing as you walk by… just smile. It’s not the fault of having had a bad-mannered owner.