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News of a talking duck is not new, but the Australian Musk Duck Biziura lobata is a recent subject. The repertoire of this species includes many sounds that the birds hear around them. Most unusually amongst the waterfowl, the Musk Duck is able to mimic snatches of human speech and regular sounds around them. A creaking gate, the click of a turnstile and a smoker's cough were all copied at Slimbridge when a small group of Musk Ducks were kept there in the 1980s. The vocal range of these Australian natives is wide, and includes an ear-piercing whistle as well as the lower registers that sound 'human' to us.
The waterfowl syrinx is equivalent to our voice-box, the larynx, which houses our vocal cords. Sound in birds is generated by vibrating fleshy folds within the cartilaginous rings in the syrinx. This is found at the end of the trachea, where it joins the bronchi which deliver air to the lungs.
Male Musk Duck swimming
Male Musk Duck — Andrew Haysom
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