If a baby Fairy-Wren wants food, he has to give the password first.
He’ll know it off by heart—because he learned it before he was hatched, while he was still inside his egg.
The Superb Fairy-Wren (its scientific name is Malurus cyaneus) is an Australia bird. It teaches its babies a single note, even before the baby is hatched.
The mother wren sings the note over and over to her unhatched eggs. The mother teaches the note to the father wren so he can sing it to the eggs, too.
After the babies are hatched, they’ll echo that note back to their mother when she’s feeding them. If they don’t sing the note, they may not get fed; or at least, not as often. The note is called a “begging call” because it’s what they sing when they are begging for food from their parents.
The note acts like a password letting the mother know which bird are hers–in other words which ones she should be feeding.
That’s because the wren’s nest will likely have some unwanted visitors. Cuckoos often put their eggs in other birds’ nests so they can avoid having to do the work of feeding their own babies.
After they’ve hatched, Cuckoos may push out the other eggs in the nest and try to pass themselves off as—in this case—Fairy-Wrens.
Cuckoos hatch earlier than Fairy-Wrens, and they don’t have time to learn the “begging call.”
Researchers have even discovered that some cuckoos try to figure out the correct begging call. They try singing different notes during feeding time hoping they’ll hit on the right one.
The research project was led by scientist Sonia Kleindorfer at Finders University in Australia and published in the journal Current Biology.
By Jonathan Tilly
What do you think were the very first things your parents wanted you to learn when you were a baby? Why do you think they chose those things?
Reading Prompt: Making Inferences / Interpreting Texts
1. The cuckoo learned that it didn’t have to feed its babies if it could leave its eggs in a wren nest.
2. The baby cuckoo learned to push the other eggs out of the nest to get more food.
3. The wren learned to sing a note to its eggs and to use it as a password.
4. The cuckoo is trying to learn how to guess the correct note to sing.
Do you think the cuckoo will learn how to sing the note? Will the cuckoo have a new strategy to get the wren’s food? What might it be?
Make inferences about texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts as evidence (OME, Reading: 1.5).
Use stated and implied ideas in texts to make inferences and construct meaning (OME, Reading: 1.5).
Develop and explain interpretations of increasingly complex or difficult texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts to support their interpretations (OME, Reading: 1.5).
Grammar Feature: Simile
A simile is a comparison between two things using the words ”like or as”. For example, there is a simile in the following sentence: “The note acts like a password letting the mother know which bird are hers–in other words which ones she should be feeding.”
Think of a simile to describe each of the following:
1. the cuckoos
2. the Fairy-Wren
3. the Fairy-Wren’s feeding routine