Mimicry by Magpie

To: Syd Curtis <>
Subject: Mimicry by Magpie
From: John Tongue <>
Date: Sat, 7 Apr 2007 12:43:34 +1000
Hi Syd et. al.,

Have you seen the David Attenborough film clip of a lyrebird imitating a car alarm, camera shutter and motor drive, and chainsaw??

John Tongue

On Saturday, April 7, 2007, at 10:22  AM, Syd Curtis wrote:

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)

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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