Mimicry by Magpie

To: Philip Veerman <>, "Birding-aus (E-mail)" <>
Subject: Mimicry by Magpie
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Sat, 07 Apr 2007 10:22:24 +1000

> From: "Philip Veerman" <>
> Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2007 14:31:00 +1000
> To: "Birding-aus \(E-mail\)" <>
> Subject: [Birding-Aus] Mimicry by Magpie
> Gisela Kaplan on TV recently (and probably in her book?) claims that
> Australian Magpies have exceptional mimicry (actually vocal copying)
> abilities.

Norman Robinson (deceased some years ago) was the CSIRO lyrebird expert.
Took over the major study of the Tidbinbilla (ACT) Superbs started by Harry
Frith in the late 1950s.   Harry became Chief of the Division of Wildlife
Research and found the administrative responsibilities did not leave him
enough time for the lyrebird project.

It was possibly in the 1970s when Norman was interviewed about lyrebirds for
ABC radio.  At the end of the interview he said something like this:

        "It is often claimed that lyrebirds imitate mechanical sounds of
human origin.  Now it would not be surprising if they could do this, for I
have here a recording of a magpie imitating a horse."

Norman then played the recording.  Several times the magpie started a normal
magpie 'warble' but then continued with a perfect rendering of the neighing
of a horse.  (I think Norman had by then moved to W. A., and it was a Helena
Valley magpie that quite often 'did' the horse imitation.)

And I should add that Norman then went on to say, "However, in over 300,000
feet of recorded tape of lyrebird song, I have not found a single example of
a lyrebird imitating a mechanical sound. If any listener has a recording of
such mimicry, I would be grateful to hear from them."  (I hardly need to add
that he got no response.  Lyrebirds don't.)

Though there is perhaps one exception to that generality - the Dorrigo
"flute-mimicking' lyrebirds: the music of a flute could be regarded as a
mechanical sound?  But that's another story.



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