Yet more on pipit mimicry

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Subject: Yet more on pipit mimicry
From: "Steve Holliday" <>
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 2006 18:50:44 +1100
For anyone who hasn't already had enough of this topic here are some extracts from P.A. Bourke's note 'Mimicry by the Pipit' published in Emu Vol 42 pp 184-185, 1943. The event took place within a half mile of Bourke's home in Gilgandra. I haven't been able to find out much about him, but have a copy of a book he wrote called 'A Handbook of Elementary Bird Study', published in 1955, an interesting text book apparently aimed at school students.
"I am inclined to agree with the author of the article reviewd in The Emu some time ago that many records of mimicry are not accurate, and I usually think many more times than the regulation twice before deciding that a bird actually is mimicking. In that way I have discounted the efforts of several birds I have heard lately, but an experience to-day left no room for doubt of the powers of a Pipit...
I had a hide set up at the nest of a Little Quail, and less than ten minutes after I had entered it... a bird perched on one of the sticks supporting the hessian. It commenced to sing there, and I placed it as a Pipit, when a strange note crept into its voice and left me wondering, for the note was that of a Red-backed Parrot, followed several seconds later by that of a Yellow-tailed Thornbill. However, within a minute it left the hide and perched on a clod seven or eight feet away and right in front of my 'spy-hole'. From that position it sang for at least five minutes... The list of birds imitated..was Red-backed Parrot (including the medley of calls when several birds are flying overhead), Zebra Finch, Black-fronted Dotterel ('twink" call), Wagtail ('sweet-pretty-creature'), Brown Tree-creeper, Yellow-tailed Thornbill, White-browed Wood-Swallow, Magpie (warning call).
The calls were all woven into one song, with scarcely a pause, and were punctuated by the bird's own calls. The change in tone, volume and intensity, between calls such as those of the parrot and the finch, were remarkable, and the notes were quite exact... I have heard that the Bush-Lark is a capable mimic, and thought, at first, that this really must be Mirafra, but there was no doubt of its identity... To cap the experience - when the bird flew, and I remembered that I was supposed to be trying to take photos, I looked at the nest, and there was the Little Quail, brooding peacefully, with feathers all fluffed out, in an attitude for all the world like that of some dignified old domestic hen. I laughed out loud, and the quail disappeared behind the nearest stook of wheat."
You don't read stuff like that in Emu these days. And from now on I'll be careful not to laugh at button quail.
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