One parrot species - the orange-fronted conure - may have evolved this ability in order to communicate with specific individuals in other flocks, according to researcher Thorsten Balsby from the University of Aarhus, Denmark and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen.
In the wild, orange-fronted conures live in dynamic flocks where individuals flit in and out, so each parrot encounters many different individuals every day. Each animal also has its own unique call.
Both in the wild and in the researcher's experiments, parrots that heard an imitation of their own calls responded more frequently and faster to the calling individual than those that did not hear this imitation.
Based on these observations, researchers suggest that the parrots may have evolved their abilities as mimics so they could 'begin a conversation' with a specific individual by mimicking their call.
The study was published in the journal 'PLOS ONE'.