magpie mimics American accent,horse,dog,etc.

Subject: magpie mimics American accent,horse,dog,etc.
From: Richard Loyn <>
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 1999 17:14:52 +1000
The correspondence on Australian Magpies and mimicry prompts me to record
an unusual event I observed on 3 November 1998, in my garden in Viewbank (a
Melbourne suburb, not far from horse paddocks).  Three recently fledged
Magpies and the adult male were sitting at midday in Sugar Gums.  In early
afternoon I watched the adult male give a prolonged warbling subsong which
consisted mainly of mimicry, with Grey Butcherbird being the main subject.
It also gave a good rendition of the scream of a Yellow-tailed
Black-Cockatoo, and three extraordinarily good mammal imitations.  The
first, repeated several times independently, was of a person, saying quite
clearly "May I help you?" in an unmistakeable American accent.  To explain,
my 4 year old daughter Meg and our next door neighbours had been playing
outside with a toy telephone which said that, the day before.  The
imitation was perfect in terms of vowels, rhythm and intonation, though the
consonants were missing or unclear.  It was quite loud, but clearly part of
the subsong.  The second mammal imitation was a horse, a brilliant
rendition of a full-blooded whinnying neigh, rising and then falling in
pitch, and repeated a second time after more Grey Butcherbird.  The third
was a dog, a deep "woof-woof" uttered once only. (No, I haven't seen any
Barking Owls here.)  Perhaps it was all part of the young birds' education.
 I haven't heard the performance repeated.  Richard. 

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