Subject: Duetting
From: (Syd Curtis)
Date: Thu, 9 Jul 1998 10:04:03 +1000
Jim Davis raised the subject of duetting and asked what Australian species
duet? This led to the question of what is duetting?

Jim, have a look at "Bird Song - Biological Themes and Variations",
Catchpole, C.K. and Slater, P.B.J., (1995), Cambridge University Press.  At
page 173 they discuss "Duets and Choruses", which I think will give you
what you want.

And, if you are really keen (and you obviously are, since you intend to
publish), then also try "Acoustic Communication in Birds" ed. Kroodsma,
D.E. and Miller, E.H., (1982), Academic Press.  In Volume 2 at page 85,
there is a chapter "The Ecological and Social Significance of Duetting" by
Susan M. Farabaugh.  Table I which fills pages 94 to 101 lists North
American and Panamanian duetting species, so it is clearly a wide-spread
phenomenon in the avian world.

Going back a bit further in time, "A New Dictionary of Birds", ed. A.
Landsborough Thomson, (1964), Nelson, has a section on "Duetting and
Antiphonal Singing" (at page 749, in my copy) under the general entry for
"Singing".  It commences:  "Particularly interesting cases of female song
are those in which it occurs in duetting; that is, when two members of a
pair sing simultaneously as part of the courtship display or to maintain
the pair bond."

Any discussion of duetting, antiphonal singing and chorusing, might
reasonably begin with those three accounts as a basis.  Jim, how about you
read them and give us the distilled essence of what they regard as

 Antiphonal singing clearly is, and is a special case.  Choruses are not -
after all a duet is restricted to 'two', not more than two.

Among Australian birds, Pied and Grey Butcherbirds indulge in some of the
most beautiful antiphonal singing one could wish to hear (are you there,
Gayle Johnson?) and I guess the Black Butcherbirds do so, but I'm not
familiar with them.

Lyrebirds do not (I AM familiar with them) but I have one tape recording
where I happened to be between a female Albert Lyrebird, and the male she
was approaching who was singing his heart out with amorous intent, and
amongst other things she sang, as a sort of displacement activity, part of
the cyclic song which the male was singing, *but a phrase or so ahead of
him* - like the piano and violin parts in one place in the Beethoven Spring
Sonata.  She had it off perfectly too, though female lyrebirds normally
don't sing at all.

Having managed to 'ring-in' lyrebirds, I'd better give you a proper
duetting species: the Logrunner _Orthonyx temminckii_.

Hilda Geissmann in an article headed "Our Jungle Spinetail"
("Queenslander", Brisbane, 24 Feb. 1922) wrties:

        "With the coming of the cool weather, the spinetails' courting
duets take place.  Each male bird has a particular branch, log, or rock on
which he stands and gives vent to his springtime feelings - this in the
middle of autumn!  He has quite a pretty song, all composed of "Quicks"
sung in different combinations of sound and  numbers, with the lady helping
him.  Whenever these duets go on I know a nest will soon be somewhere near,
and I usually can find it."

Miss Geissmann grew up living beside logrunner habitat on Tamborine Moutain
and knew the  birds well enough to be accepted by them.

(The 1922 vintage "Queenslander" may be a bit hard to track down, but the
article was reprinted in "Land of Wonder" an anthology of the best of
Australian nature writing selected and edited by Alec Chisholm. Angus &
Robertson 1964, and republished in 1979, if anyone wants to read the rest
of the article.)

As anyone who has has tried tape-recording in logunner-infested rainforest
will know, they are very vocal in warning the forest of any human intruder,
and while they are thus engaged in sounding the alarm, they won't be
engaging in courtship duets.  Some patience would seem to be called for, if
one wishes to study their courting songs.

Magpie-larks certainly do sing duets - perfect antiphonal duets.  And as an
interesting aside, the Magpie-lark duet appears as mimicry in the song of
the Song-thrushes on Lord Howe Island.


Syd Curtis at Hawthorne, Qld.

H Syd Curtis

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