Birds have learned to imitate the ring tones of the omnipresent mobile phones, say German ornithologists.

“The birds have an uncanny ability to mimic these ring tones. This has picked up in tandem with the boom in mobile phone ownership,” Richard Schneider of the NABU bird conservation centre near the university city of Tuebingen here said.

Jackdaws, starlings and jays were the best mimics, Schneider said adding that even practiced birdwatchers were being fooled by the birds.

One reason for the phenomenon was that these birds were increasingly common in the urban environment, even the relatively shy jay, he said. “There is food and an increasing amount of green space in modern cities.”

The birds were simply adapting to their environment in imitating human sounds in what he termed an “evolutionary playground”.

Many of the more common ring tones are themselves imitations of bird calls, so the birds are in some instances mimicking another species.

“Many birds call not only to find mates or to mark out their territory, but sometimes also to fool other animals,” Schneider said. However, they never lose the ability to make the calls typical of their species, he added.

Mobile phone users who have ring tones from pop music will, however, not find themselves reaching for their phones in error when a bird calls. The birds cannot imitate these complex melodies, only the simpler ring tones.

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