Talking duck Ripper was said to have repeatedly used the catchphrase when mating after overhearing his keeper uttering the word, according to recordings unearthed in a new study
A duck in Australia has been recorded muttering ‘you bloody fool’ after learning to mimic his keeper.
The fowl-mouthed bird, named Ripper, was said to have grown particularly fond of using the catchphrase while mating.
The bird, who had been hand-reared, also learned to repeat the sound of his aviary doors opening and shutting.
While other species of birds are known to be able to ‘parrot’ human speech – the Australian musk duck’s chatty talent has only just been revealed.
The talking duck from Canberra, who lived more than 30 years ago, is believed to be the first documented account of the species mimicking human speech.
Ripper’s talents are only just emerging now because a study charting the talking duck was only published in the most recent journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.
According to the study, Ripper was hand reared on a nature reserve and learned to repeat the sentence which was often uttered by its keeper.
The paper states: “The structure of the duck vocalisations indicates a quite sophisticated and flexible control over the vocal production mechanism.”
Carel Ten Cate, from Leiden University in the Netherlands, heard about the talking duck, so tracked down now-retired Australian scientist Peter J. Fullagar, who first noticed its mimicry 30 years ago.
He shared his recordings of Ripper, made in the 1980s, for the recent study.
The professor of animal behaviour used software to confirm the birds were repeating noises from their environment.
In some cases the sounds had only been heard in the first weeks of life.
The “You bloody fool!”, and a clip of him mimicking the aviary door being opened and closed, were both recorded during Ripper’s mating displays.
Though the recording sounds like “you bloody fool”, Ten Cate told the Guardian it was possible Ripper was saying “food,” adding: “I can imagine that the caretaker would jokingly say, ‘Okay, here is your bloody food’.”
He would make these sounds in a repetitive series, just as he would the ‘whistle-kick’ normally learnt from his flock to attract a mate.
The paper explains: “The whistle-kick consists of a non-vocal splash component produced by the feet hitting the water, followed by two distinct vocal components: a soft low-frequency sound followed by a much louder whistle.”
Another case was reported from 2000 at the same Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve of a male duck imitating the quacks of the Pacific black ducks he lived near during his mating display.
The study also documented cases of musk ducks in the UK appearing to mimic other animals’ sounds.
One duck in the UK at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk had been heard “coughing and [mimicking] a snorting pony” – but there were no known recordings to support the phenomenon.
Musk ducks tend to usually use their talents to learn the high-pitched whistles from their older flock mates.
But those in captivity demonstrate human sounds like doors closing and even phrases, according to the study.
This means they learn ‘utterances’ based on what they hear as infants.
Other species that learn this way include parrots, budgies, hummingbirds, certain songbirds, whales, seals, bats, elephants – and, of course, humans.