Lake Learmonth at sunrise on the summer solstice … you can almost hear the magpies saying good morning

Today, I was woken, as I often am, by the sound of the Australian magpie, sitting on my roof, carolling away.

When I first came to Australia, some 25 years ago, having only been in the country a few days, I was taken camping by friends at a very pretty spot called Lake Learmonth, near the Victorian country town of Ballaraat. About an hour and a half north of Melbourne.

At about 5 or 5.30 am (having not been asleep very long), I sat bolt upright in my tent, when the most astonishing noise from the depths of some awful Hell broke over my head like an aural tsunami.

I flung open the tent and stood up in my undies, still lily-white from the northern winter, (me, not the undies; they were a sort of off white) and utterly panicked. I must have made an amusing spectacle for the numbers of hardy, bronzed Aussies that were already up and about, gathering wood for barbecues, showering, getting boats rigged for an early morning sail, or fishing.

When I had gathered myself, I soon surmised that on the ground nearby was a single black and white bird, singing away for all it was worth, hoping to be chucked a scrap of spare bacon in all probability, and with the most astonishing collection of sounds I had ever heard.

Warbles, cat calls, obbles, wobbles, doodles, melodious notes held apparently forever, soaring trills, clicks, coughs* … a seemingly endless repertoire of noise. No, it wasn’t Armageddon. It was a single bird.

Needless to say, it was some time before my Aussie hosts allowed me to forget that I had been so terrified of one small black and white bird looking for some free breakfast that I ran around the campsite in my smalls.

Anyway, lying in bed this morning listening to the morning chorus which I have now, of course, grown to love, it occurred to me that you, Dear Reader, might like to hear what all the fuss was about.

The first video is an exceptional sound file, although poor for seeing the bird. The second is not so good for the sound, although still good, but lets you see the birds clearly.

And there’s another good sound file for you to listen to here: http://tinyurl.com/6numspx

The other bird we hear regularly, of course, especially when my wife is selling her beautiful handmade glass at lovely Warrandyte market by the Yarra River, is the Kookaburra, a member of the Kingfisher family, and the iconic “laughing”  Australian bird.

Enjoy!

The Australian Magpie was first described by English ornithologist John Latham in 1802 as Coracias tibicen, the type collected in the Port Jackson region. Its specific epithet derived from the Latin tibicen “flute-player” or “piper” in reference to the bird’s melodious call.[1][2] An early recorded vernacular name is Piping Roller, written on a painting by Thomas Watling, one of a group known collectively as the Port Jackson Painter,[3] sometime between 1788 and 1792.[4] Tarra-won-nang,[3] or djarrawunang, wibung, and marriyang were names used by the local Eora and Darug inhabitants of the Sydney Basin.[5] Booroogong and garoogong were Wiradjuri words, and carrak was a Jardwadjali term from Victoria.[6] Among the Kamilaroi, it is burrugaabu,[7] galalu, or guluu.[8] It was known as Warndurla among the Yindjibarndi people of the central and western Pilbara.[9] Other names used include Piping Crow-shrike, Piper, Maggie, Flute-bird and Organ-bird.[2] The term Bell-magpie was proposed to help distinguish it from the European Magpie but failed to gain wide acceptance.[10]

*One of the best-known New Zealand poems is “The Magpies” by Denis Glover, with its refrain “Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle”, imitating the sound of the bird.

The bird was named for its similarity in colouration to the European Magpie; it was a common practice for early settlers to name plants and animals after European counterparts.[4] However, the European Magpie is a member of the Corvidae, while its Australian counterpart is placed in the Artamidae family (although both are members of a broad corvid lineage).

Magpies are ubiquitous in urban areas all over Australia, and have become accustomed to people. A small percentage of birds become highly aggressive during breeding season from late August to early October, and will swoop and sometimes attack passersby. The percentage has been difficult to estimate but is significantly less than 9%.[81] Almost all attacking birds (around 99%) are male,[82] and they are generally known to attack pedestrians at around 50 m (150 ft) from their nest, and cyclists at around 100 m (300 ft).[83] Attacks begin as the eggs hatch, increase in frequency and severity as the chicks grow, and tail off as the chicks leave the nest.[84]

These magpies may engage in an escalating series of behaviours to drive off intruders. Least threatening are alarm calls and distant swoops, where birds fly within several metres from behind and perch nearby. Next in intensity are close swoops, where a magpie will swoop in from behind or the side and audibly “snap” their beaks or even peck or bite at the face, neck, ears or eyes. More rarely, a bird may dive-bomb and strike the intruder’s (usually a cyclist’s) head with its chest. A magpie may rarely attack by landing on the ground in front of a person and lurching up and landing on the victim’s chest and peck at the face and eyes.[85]

Magpie attacks can cause injuries, typically wounds to the head and particularly the eyes, with potential detached retinas and bacterial infections from a beak used to fossick in the ground. A 13-year-old boy died from tetanus, apparently from a magpie injury, in northern New South Wales in 1946. Being unexpectedly swooped while cycling is not uncommon, and can result in loss of control of the bicycle, which may cause injury. In Ipswich, a 12-year-old boy was killed in traffic while trying to evade a swooping magpie on 16 August 2010.

If it is necessary to walk near the nest, wearing a broad-brimmed or legionnaire’s hat or using an umbrella will deter attacking birds, but beanies and bicycle helmets are of little value as birds attack the sides of the head and neck.[90] Eyes painted on hats or helmets will deter attacks on pedestrians but not cyclists.[91] Attaching a long pole with a flag to a bike is an effective deterrent.[92] As of 2008, the use of cable ties on helmets has become common and appears to be effective.[93] Magpies prefer to swoop at the back of the head; therefore, keeping the magpie in sight at all times can discourage the bird. Using a basic disguise to fool the magpie as to where a person is looking (such as painting eyes on a hat, or wearing sunglasses on the back of the head) can also prove effective. In some cases, magpies may become extremely aggressive and attack people’s faces; it may become very difficult to deter these birds from swooping. Once attacked, shouting aggressively and waving one’s arms at the bird should deter a second attack. If a bird presents a serious nuisance the local authorities may arrange for that bird to be legally destroyed, or more commonly, to be caught and relocated to an unpopulated area.[94] Magpies have to be moved some distance as almost all are able to find their way home from distances of less than 25 km (15 mi).[95] Removing the nest is of no use as birds will breed again and possibly be more aggressive the second time around.[96]

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Comments
  1. I live with a Cockatoo in my office, he screeches, screams and otherwise makes his presence known. But that, that sound is quite annoying.

    Like

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