A true signature sound of Australia is the gurgling, bubbling melody of the Australian Magpie, a large black-and-white butcherbird of open country as well as forest edges and clearings. During our recent trip to New England National Park, I was very fortunate to record the contagious singing of a group, in farm country just outside the park:
Songs of Australian Magpies recorded around 7am, 27 October 2012, just outside New England National Park, New South Wales, Australia. © Lang Elliott (note: set against background recorded in dry forest near Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia.)
The magpie’s musical song is a complex series of rich and varied gurgling whistles that lasts five or six seconds. It begins with soft low-pitched notes but quickly builds in volume and sometimes cascades downward at the end. The effect is quite pleasing, a real Australian “delicacy” for the ears.
Magpies live in family groups that defend territories. Males often begin singing in the wee hours of dawn, before other birds, although they usually continue to sound off well into the morning. The best performances happen in areas where they are dense, with the singing of one male eliciting the song of a neighbor, which may then elicit the song of another nearby male. This contagious singing pattern is quite evident in my recording, which involves at least four or five different males. Sometimes it sounds as if more than one male sounds off simultaneously from a single location. It’s also possible that females add notes when their mates sing, although I do not hear that happening in my recordings (duetting commonly occurs in related species such as the Grey Butcherbird).
A Soundscape Composition: The recording I’m presenting is actually a “composition,” in that I was compelled to place the songs against a different background to improve the listening experience. This is why I have called this post “Magpie Composition.”
Throughout my original field recording, there were several birds of an unknown species giving loud and obnoxious high-pitched (alarm?) calls almost continuously in the background. Perhaps these birds had a nest nearby and were disturbed by my presence. Whatever their cause, these calls pretty much wrecked the recording, at least from the perspective of human appreciation of the magpie songs. Fortunately, I was able to use advanced editing techniques to literally lift the magpie songs from their distracting background and then re-place them against a more pleasing backdrop from a similar dry sclerophyll forest.
I hope you like the result! While not an entirely authentic documention of the actual sound event, the recording does qualify as a “near-natural representation” of the magpie’s extraordinary musical talent … and it sounds WAY better than the raw field recording. In other words, the magpie songs are absolutely authentic and true to life (they have not been twisted, stretched or crunched), but their exact timing and the background ambience has been changed.
p.s. Australian nature recordist Vicki Powys also tells me the following species occur in the background: Peaceful Dove (heard at the beginning), White-throated Treecreeper, Willie Wagtail, hint of Pied Butcherbird, Noisy Friarbird, Mistletoebird, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, a flycatcher species, Rufous Whistler, and Yellow-faced Honeyeater. Wow, Vicki’s got a great ear, doesn’t she!
ART CREDIT: The attractive painting of magpies is by Australian artist Katherine Castle. It is available in notecard form and as both paper and canvas prints. Check it out on her web site: