What is subsong?

Subject: What is subsong?
From: (Syd Curtis)
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 1999 06:06:06 +1000
Anne Green wrote (08 Jan 1999):

>A hand reared magpie that called our place home would perch on a power
>line and give an accurate imitation of our fox terrier dog's bark. And
>that definitely wasn't subsong either!

I recall an ABC radio program in which the late Norman Robinson was asked
about lyrebird mimicry and he mentioned that he had a recording he had made
of a magpie imitating a horse.  He played the recording and there was the
magpie's unmistakeable warble which ran on into an excellent rendition of
the neighing of a horse.  (This was from the forest on the escarpment at
the back of Perth behind Helena Valley.)  I don't now recall what Norman
said (if anything) of the circumstances of the recording.

Can anyone on birding-aus enlighten us as to how to identify sub-song?
W.H. Thorpe's definition in Landsborough Thomson's "Dictionary of Birds"
(now some 30 years old) leaves me uncertain:-

        "This can often be distinguished from full song by being quieter;
by having song-bursts of longer duration; and by having fundamental
frequency of the individual notes lower.  This gives the impression that
the subsong is generally of lower overall pitch;  subsong as at present
tentatively defined, is also characterised by having a quite different
temporal pattern or structute as compared with full song (Thorpe &

(I do not have access to the reference: Thorpe W.H. & Pilcher, P.M. 1958.
The nature and characteristics of sub-song.  British Birds 51: 509-513.)

Has subsong since been defined less "tentatively"?

Syd Curtis at Hawthorne, Q.

H Syd Curtis

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU