Grey Butcherbird Duets

photo of a singing Grey Butcherbird

During my last morning of recording in Australia, I managed to snag a real jewel … the musical song-duetting of a pair of Grey Butcherbirds. What a surprising and delightful “grand finale” to my adventure Down Under:

Song duets of a pair of Grey Butcherbirds. Recorded at sunrise on 6 November 2012 in Karuah National Park, north of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. Intervals between duets have been reduced for your listening pleasure. © Lang Elliott, all rights reserved.

The following sonogram shows the particulars … eight songs, all being duets. I followed the pair for nearly an hour in dry forest in Karuah National Park, just north of Newcastle. The is just a small sampling of the thirty or more song duets that I captured.

Sonogram of Grey Butcherbird duets

If you wear headphones or earbuds, you can clearly hear the different locations of the two individuals and their relative contributions to each song outburst. I’m not entirely sure how you can tell which is the male and which is the female, but I assume that the male usually initiates the duet, with the female chiming-in to fill out the song.

From a distance the duets sound like the work of just one singer, a bright melodic outburst of considerable beauty. Only when you get close can you hear the different positions of the two contributors and appreciate the close-knit quality of the duet.

There is really no comparison to this back in the United States. Sure, female Carolina Wrens and Brown-headed Cowbirds may chatter when their mate sings, but these are pale in comparison and the female outbursts are far from being musical. I have heard musical “call duets” between pairs of Great-crested Flycatchers, but these don’t hold a candle to the butcherbirds.

Australia seems full of such surprises. Next spring, I fully expect to find myself bored with my local soundscapes and longing to hear the exquisite melodies from Oz, from that magical land below the equator where birds sing like nowhere else on earth, their songs freshly sprinkled from the heavens.

Do I plan to come back to Australia for more recording? You betcha! C’mon, I still haven’t recorded the zen-whistling Pied Butcherbird, perhaps the greatest singer of all. That’s a magnet that will surely lure me back!


  1. kia ora sir (Lang)
    greetings from auckland, NZ. thanks for the beautiful website. you are a genius. may the good Lord continue to bless you and your family. above all Jesus Loves you.
    best regards

  2. Oh, how exquisitely beautiful! Many thanks to you for sharing! I hope your eBook is still available…I’m going to go look for it right now.

  3. Zack: I eagerly await the time when I can profitably publish eBooks with rich multimedia. Right now, the state of affairs is rather dismal. For example, last spring my friend Marie Read and I authored a great electronic book for the iPad called “Music of the Birds.” We’ve only sold a few hundred because there is no efficient way to advertise that it exists. Hopefully avenues will emerge over the next few years that will make it much easier to create, market and sell multimedia electronic books. I am so ready for that to come about. I have great stories, great recordings, great video clips, great photos … everything I need to make it happen, except the economic superstructure.

  4. Lang, you should make a book or something about your travels in Australia. I have some of your books, the Calls of Frogs and Toads, The Frogs and Toads of North America, and The Songs of Insects. I really appreciate your books. I don’t have all of them. Once I have all of them, I’m a true fan of your books.

  5. Great Lang! There’s a current slight problem with my website. My webspace quota is somehow already full. This means I can’t put any pictures on my website. Until this problem is fixed, by blogs will have no pictures, and no pictures will be added to my galleries.

  6. Has anybody on here checked my website yet? It’s very new, so it so far is quite small.

    • Hi there Dan! Yes, it’s difficult to get good recordings of duetting where the two members of a pair are well-separated in the stereo field. Luckily, there was an open understory where I made this recording, allowing me to follow the pair around and maneuver myself into good positions. The challenge was keeping up with their movements.

  7. Wow, The Butcherbird is just wonderous. I wish I had the bud earphones to hear the calls more clearly. See you soon. Have a relaxing trip back. Love, your sister, Jackie

  8. Lang, I think is getting more popular, because your newer blogs, and even some of the older ones, are getting more and more comments. For example, yesterday, your blog Magpie Composition had 12 comments. Now it has 14.

    I made my own website a few days ago. It’s called You should check it out.

  9. Excellent recording! I lost my headphones, so I’ll buy some new ones soon. I think even without headphones, I hear what sounds like a distant butcherbird. Is that the one responding to the close individual?

  10. Magnificent recording! I am struck by how similar the Butcherbird song is to that of the Australian Magpie. In comparison, the Magpie sounds “artifacty” and that the Butcherbird sings a “cleaned-up” version on the Magpie’s song. Also fascinating are the voices of the supporting characters in the Butcherbird recording. One bird sounds almost like our Canyon Wren.

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