Friday, November 9, 2012

What was making these wolf whistle sounds if it wasn't Starlings?

Have you ever had one of those days when you think you've heard everything? Yesterday was one of those days for me. Around 1:25pm the local birds were chirping away when suddenly I heard 2 birds making wolf whistle calls. As I got my camera ready I made sure it was not people making this wolf whistle, and unless people climbed trees to whistle from, it was not people.

I distinctively heard 2 birds, one by the creek to the north of the Douglas Street bridge, the other in one of the gum trees in my neighbour, Carol's, garden. The audio to the video is really bad quality, and was much louder in real life - actually it was twice as loud as the audio in this video. The 2 birds were calling out to each other using this wolf whistle sound. The sounds stopped after about 45 seconds, and I never heard it again.

I done a bit of research on birds that can mimic other sounds and the Common Starling is at the top of the list for this article. It is the only species I know of that actually exists in Tenterfield from this list of mimicking birds that do wolf whistle sounds. The other species on my list, so far, are the Upland Sandpiper; Superb Lyrebird; Black-capped Chicadees; Whip-poor-wills; White-faced Whistling Ducks; Greenfinch; and the Tragopans. All the birds except for the Superb Lyrebird, the Greenfinch, and Starlings do not exist in Australia, not even as an introduced species as far as I know.

So, here lies the problem... let's say the wolf whistle was made by 2 Starlings. Why would they only make this sound for less than 50 seconds, use it for communication, and never repeat the sound for years on end? I've read that Starlings mimic sounds because they hear it a lot, and are influenced by that sound. If that is true, then shouldn't the Starlings make these sounds at more regular intervals than just once every few years? It doesn't make sense to me.

I hear Starlings almost every day around here, and they make the typical Starling noises, despite the differences in their songs. But never have I heard a Starling make such a dramatically different sound as this wolf whistle before. It just does not match their behaviour nor their vocalisation really.

I am actually ruling out that these birds were Starlings simply because it was a once off sound, and it was used for communication. The 2 birds were about 200-300 metres apart when calling to each other. In the video below, you can hear a distinctive loud wolf whistle call being made at 0:20 seconds but you can hear both birds prior to that calling out, albeit faintly.

It is definately not a Greenfinch, an Upland Sandpiper nor a Blackbird as the wolf whistle sound is different between these species.

For reference, I found this video of a blackbird that mimics different sounds in order to attract a mate. I am ruling out the Blackbird as the likely suspect, as the birds I heard were obviously a pair and communicating to each other.

I honestly believe that the wolf whistle sounds were not used to attract a mate, as the other bird was doing it as well. In conclusion, going on the fact that different bird species often temporarily stay in Tenterfield for as little as just overnight, it is more than probable that the birds in this video were just passing through. That being the case then these wolf whistling birds are not from the local area at all.

AFTER THOUGHT: There is one possibility that it could be an unheard of call from the Grey Shrike-thrush. I'm not ruling the Grey Shrike-thrush out just yet as a possible culprit as it sings a lot of different songs, moreso than another other bird in the area, next to the Eastern Rosella of course.


  1. It was definitely the grey shrike-thrush. We have had many generations of these birds calling in regularly for a hand-feed and see and hear them wolf-whistle, amongst many other calls. They are very social birds with loads of personality, if you can gain their trust.

    Bob, Waratah Bay, Vic

  2. Hey Bob! Thanks for bringing me up to speed about this particular call being that of a Grey Shrike-thrush. It's nice to know the male is still around. I actually thought he left with his third mate (the first 2 dumped him because of his chosen nesting site). I don't know much about Grey Shrike-thrushes, except for my study on one particular individual which has finally of breeding age. This wolf whistle sound came after a sort of bonding calls the two birds have been making for the passed few weeks. Well, at least I think it is them. Is it possible that this wolf whistle sound has anything to do with them having mated or they female having laid eggs? I'm curious as to why they sing like this then stop it. I'm trying to find a reason for why they make all the different sounds they make. I haven't heard these birds for about a week now. Nesting? Moved on? Any help is deeply appreciated, Bob.

  3. Hi Shirley,

    Around here at least, the songs become more frequent and varied during mating around Sep-Oct. This may vary slightly up North. I have regular 'conversations' with our resident male, including clicks. I think he is saying, "What the hell was that - this is how it's done!".
    It may be they are taking turns on the nest as the eggs are incubating around November - they seem to go missing for a while, then return with their fledglings around Dec-Jan.
    The females seem to be the territorial ones. Our male (they were monogamous for the last 6 years) kow-towed in every respect to the female, but she has now, sadly, gone missing.
    Another, very timid, young lady has however, appeared and is slowly establishing herself and getting acquainted.


  4. we have a blackbird that always comes back every year his song is a joy to listen to and he nearly always puts a wolf whistle on the end


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