Australians love a good swear. At this point, it’s basically part of our cultural identity — and even the wildlife knows it. In a new study, ethologists Carel ten Cate and Peter J. Fullagar analysed the capability of the Australian musk duck to imitate human vocals, including our ability to swear, and introduced the world to rude duck Ripper. While the behaviour had previously been highlighted in select bird species, the study is the first to note this behaviour in ducks.
According to the paper, published by The Royal Society, several musk ducks have picked up the capability to speak over the last few decades, with the first notable example being a duck named Ripper in the 1980s.
Ripper was unique because he was able to recreate several recognisable sounds, including a car door slamming and the phrase “you bloody fool” — but importantly, he wasn’t alone.
In the years since, researchers have discovered another duck exhibiting similar behaviour and while duck mimicry is still rare, the phenomenon is one that’s important to study to understand more about the natural world.
You can hear the rude duck in action via SoundCloud below:
“These sounds have been described before, but were never analysed in any detail and went so far unnoticed by researchers of vocal learning,” the study notes of Ripper’s vocalisations. Also of note was that the sounds were produced during the musk duck’s ‘advertising display’, a period where animals make themselves ‘known’ for breeding or defensive reasons.
How Ripper learned to swear is currently unknown, but researchers believe the duck may have picked up the phrase from his caretaker in Canberra’s Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
“Ripper was raised from a fresh egg sourced from East Gippsland, Victoria, Australia in September 1983 and was the only musk duck present at the time of rearing,” the study says. It goes on to describe Ripper’s living habitat (a structure divided in two, with female musk ducks nearby) and states female ducks were likely present when Ripper began mimicking human voices and other sounds.
It also appears the phrase “you bloody fool” was specifically deployed by Ripper when threatened by the presence of humans.
“Ripper would come up onto the narrow bank on the inside of the fence and scramble along ‘attacking’ anyone on the outside,” the study describes. “He called repeatedly then dashed about on the small patch of water within the pen splashing water everywhere.”
The second (unnamed) duck was not reared by humans, but did develop a similarly unique vocalisation that imitated a different duck species.
While both cases are historic, Cate and Fullagar recently submitted their analysis on the ducks to further research in how animals use vocalisation and mimicry, as well as analyse how ducks are capable of the feat.
According to the paper, this is down to the larger size of the musk duck’s telencephalon, the part of the brain associated with vocals — but Cate and Fullagar note further research is needed to understand why musk ducks use this vocalisation, and how the species evolved to gain the skill.
All we know is Ripper sounds like a bloody legend, and that he’s doing Australia proud.
You can view the research paper here to discover more about Ripper and his rude behaviour.