Saturday, November 17, 2012

Australian Magpie mimicry songs are their "Happy songs"

I am always amazed when I hear the variety of mimicry sounds made by female Australian Magpies. I've always wondered why they do it. What keeps me wondering about their mimicry sounds is why the local ones never mimic Torresian Crow calls or birds of prey or even Masked Lapwings. And then it struck me that they only mimic sounds of things that make them feel comfortable and relaxed. Things that do not harass them, basically. Magpies do not like Masked Lapwings, period, and will chase them out of their territory.

If you listen to any Magpie mimicking other sounds that they hear, it is always things they hear or listen to in their own territory. They never seem to mimic any noises from outside their own territory even if they can hear it. It is also the sort of things and animals that they get along with and don't feel threatened by.

I have only ever heard Magpies make mimicry sounds around my place and only ever out the front. I may only hear the same bird make mimicry sounds once or twice a year, so they are not singing to me to feed them. When mimicry sounds are heard the birds are always alone. How often they sing like this (meaning = Do they sing like this every day when they are alone?) I do not know but once they start doing so (they start mimicry sounds at 1 year of age by the way) they continue doing it throughout the rest of their life.

I actually have a theory as to why they sing using mimicry. My theory is they find a place (location) in their territory where they feel comfortable and will not be disturbed by the rest of the family. Then they begin singing in their Magpie voice then throw in mimicry sounds. When they mimicry sing their voices are quieter than normal, as if they don't want to be heard from a distance. If they are disturbed by anything they stop singing altogether and will not start it up again. Often they will get underneath a tree or next to something big (like a rubbish bin) which seems to further mask their song from travelling through the air to be heard by other Magpies.

I call this mimicry song their "happy song", as that is what it is almost like when listening to it. I honestly do not believe female Australian Magpies mimic sounds they hear for any kind of use in their courtship with their mate - if they have one. I think they mimic sing simply because they are happy and content. But also, I only hear them sing like this in Spring after their babies have fledged. Does their song have anything to do with breeding? I'm not really sure as I've heard a 1 year old Magpie do mimicry singing. A one year old is too young to breed so it can't be something to do with breeding, in my opinion.

Here's a wacky thought ... they are singing happy birthday to themselves because noone else will, or maybe they are singing "Old MacDonald had a farm" in Magpie language!

So, the next time you hear a female Australian Magpie make the sounds of a duck, horse or something else listen carefully to the sounds she imitates. Listen to the sounds that make her feel comfortable the most that exists within her territory.

My apologies for a terribly written post. I've a lot on my mind lately and I can't think at a deeper level to make more coherent sentences.


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