Whipbirds, Weather, Male chauvinism, & Conservation

Subject: Whipbirds, Weather, Male chauvinism, & Conservation
From: (Syd Curtis)
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 1998 21:58:49 +1000

Recently there was discussion of the possibility of the dawn chorus being
missed in advance of bushfires.  I now raise another aspect of birds
possibly reacting ('pre-acting'?) to oncoming weather.

I spend most Wednesdays working as a volunteer at the Australian Rainforest
Conservation Society.  The ARCS office is in the Brisbane suburb of Bardon,
at the edge of a small patch, perhaps half a hectare, of Eucalyptus forest
with rainforest understorey.  On several occasions last year, I thought I
heard an Eastern Whipbird _Psophodes olivaceus_ (they do occur in some
Brisbane suburbs)  but wasn't sure.  Just a very rare single 'whip' call..
But on Wednesday 28th January, there was no doubt:  a pair were calling and
answering,  loud, clear and often.  It was a hot sunny morning but by noon
storm clouds were gathering and before 1 pm the deluge started and we got a
couple of inches in a very short time.  It was the first heavy rain in
Brisbane for quite a while.

The following Wednesday, March 4, and again today, I heard no Whipbirds.
They may call at dawn, but after 9 am, only very rare calls (or none),
except on that one day in advance of the heavy storm rain.  It's hard to
escape the conclusion that the two events were connected.

Anyone care to comment?

And does anyone know of any proof that it is the male whipbird that
initiates the duet?  Peter Slater (of the University of St Andrews, not our
Australian Peter Slater) tells me that Rachel Levin of Cornell University
has shown (using laparotomy) that in the case of Bay Wrens _Thryothorus
nigricapellus_, a monomorphic species in Panama, it is the female that
initiates the duet.  And I note that in the book "Bird Song - Biological
Themes and Variations" that Slater co-authored with C.K. Catchpole, they
illustrate and discuss the whipbird duet but avoid saying which sex makes
the 'whip' and which the response.

There seems to have been a tendency in the past for ornithologists (mainly
males?) to assume that it is the male of a monomorphic species that
initiates a duet, and there may be other species in addition to Bay Wrens
where this assumption is not justified.  Perhaps the whipbird is one of
them.  Do we really know?

I'm sure everyone who subscribes to birding-aus, wishes for the long-term
survival of all forest bird species.  If you are reading this and you don't
already actively support the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society,
please consider doing so.

Aila Keto, the ARCS President has probably done more than any other
individual to preserve Australian native forests; she has certainly done
more than anyone else to preserve Queensland rainforests.  Virtually
single-handed, she persuaded the Queensland Government to stop logging
rainforest on all Queensland State Forests.  Dr Keto is presently working
extremely hard to try to preserve an acceptable level of biodiversity, on a
sound scientific basis, in the native forests of south-eastern Queensland.

The battle is far from won.  And it continues in other States as well.  If
you want to help our forest birds, support ARCS.

The Society's Net site is

the Email address is


The Postal address is 19 Colorado Avenue, Bardon, Q. 4065; phone 07 3368
1318; and fax 07 3368 3938.

Syd Curtis

H Syd Curtis

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