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It is not common to hear a musk duck talk — let alone use foul language. Thanks to the recent discovery of a 35-year-old recording of one named Ripper; that has changed. Carel ten Cate — a professor of animal behavior at Leiden University in the Netherlands — and scientist, Peter J. Fullagar, published their research about Ripper the musk duck on Sept. 6, 2021.
Cate’s investigation into the evolution of vocal learning among birds brought to light a recording of Ripper saying something that sounds like “you bloody fool.” The recording was taken in the summer of 1987. Ripper can be heard swearing repeatedly and mimicking the sound a door makes when closing.
In an email to The Washington Post, Cate said finding the recording was a “special rediscovery.” He added that the find was a “pure coincidence.” Cate reached out to Fullagar — who recorded the talking musk duck — and found out that Ripper was 4 years old when the audio file was created.
They published their findings in the Royal Society Scientific Journal on September 6. Their research shows that captive musk ducks have the capabilities to imitate human speech. In this case, Ripper was recorded saying what sounds like “you bloody fool.”
For most animals, vocal learning is an advanced and relatively rare trait. Some groups — like parrots and songbirds — have demonstrated their ability to learn human language.
Learning that a musk duck can learn to mimic the human language is “extra remarkable,” according to Cate.
It is a mystery as to where Ripper the musk duck learned the phrase from. However, many believe that Ripper learned it from his caregiver.
Due to the fact that musk ducks reproduce in small numbers, they form a strong maternal relationship with their young. This is because mother musk ducks have more time to interact with their ducklings.
Ripper was raised at Australia’s Tibinbilla Nature Reserve and formed a strong human bond with his caregivers. This may explain why the domesticated animal mimicked human speech.
Cate’s study took around two years to complete. His team stated that they had also received reports of two male musk ducks — in the United Kingdom — mimicking human noises their caregivers had made. The reports mentioned the ducks would even make coughing noises.
These waterfowls are found naturally in Australia. They are known for their powerful builds, and stiff black and brown feathers. The males of the species have what is described as a “large bulbous lobe of skin” hanging underneath their bill. During mating season the males would inflate the lobe to attract a mate.
Female musk ducks are smaller and stature and have a smaller lobe of skin that hangs beneath their bills. The name of the species comes from the odor they admit when they are attempting to attract a mate. Public affairs manager at the conservation organization BirdLife Australia, Sean Dooley, stated that they “never thought ducks were capable of this.” He added that they — like many others —were surprised to hear about Ripper’s case.
Written by Sheena Robertson
The Washington Post: Australian musk ducks have the ability to call you a ‘bloody fool,’ research finds; by Jennifer Hassan
Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Ed Dunens’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Bruce Ramsay’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License