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Pets & wildlife

Bird serenade at night

Jennifer Stackhouse

Jennifer Stackhouse

October 7, 2012

I harbour a secret ambition. I would love to hear a nightingale singing at night. In the meantime, I make do with the slightly poignant calls of our resident Willie wagtail. He calls in spring throughout the night. He is awake all night singing to let the local females know that he’s around. At night this tiny bird can be heard clearly unlike in the daylight hours when the many other noises and bird calls take over.

Australian Willie wagtail Photo by bushie

I was awake in the wee hours hearing the Willie wagtail’s song until it was drowned out by a jolly, pre-dawn chorus of kookaburras. Then the roosters chimed in. As I live in a rural area we are allowed to keep roosters in our backyard flocks and they like to make themselves heard.


Bruce the rooster




I only have a bantam rooster, but he can hold his own amongst the more rowdy crowers in the neighbourhood. I enjoy hearing the birds in the early morning though – even the roosters. Somehow, what would be awful if you were hearing it in a suburban setting, is not too disturbing in the countryside.


Satin bower birds (Photo KrysiaB)

Another distinctive morning sound is the harsh call of the satin bowerbird. These are very cautious birds but the males in particular have a loud rasping call. Females (or perhaps they’re immature males – they have the same drab brown-green feathering of the females) visit our back verandah looking for food. I don’t often see the male but I did spot him this morning on a neighbour’s verandah feeding out of the dogs’ feed bowls. The dogs were still asleep in their baskets nearby oblivious of the early morning raider (or may be they were playing possum).

Satin bower bird’s collection of blue objects

With that voice it is fortunate bowerbirds don’t call to attract mates. Instead they use display to get their girls. The satiny black male I spotted this morning has a bower – bent over arches of dry grass – and a very good collection of blue plastic in a patch of bush just beside our lane way. When I stopped to take this photo the local noisy miners set up a racket no doubt a warning that I was around.

Satin bower bird’s bower




The noisy miners are also nesting and they flock together in a noisy mass to send off the crows that flap past on a lazy reconnaissance checking out their nests for a potential snack.

Australian plover, or masked lapwing (Photo raider of gin)



But even the noisy miners are overwhelmed by the raucous, almost manic calls of the plovers. They’ve hatched two tiny fluffy black chicks up on the roof of the lean-to on our shed. Somehow the chicks have made it to ground level and the parents have gone into protective overdrive. They are dive-bombing us and anyone else who comes anywhere near the shed. Hopefully they’ll move off soon as they are fearsome in full flight.

Australian plover or masked lapwing (Photo jemasmith)

Luckily for our sanity plants don’t make loud calls to stake their territory or to attract mates – although some researchers are recording sounds sent out by plants perhaps warning others of pests. By and large though plants are subtle in their methods of attracting pollinators (rather than mates) luring them with scent, colour or a meal of tasty nectar. Imagine the cacophony if flowers sang like birds!




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11 years ago

Our resident “nightingales” are going hell for leather as the sun starts to rise…we have blackbirds, plovers, a pair of Southern Right Gulls down on the river that add a deep bass tone before they head off to pilfer salmon from the salmon farm around the corner, willy wagtails, sparrows, cuckoo shrikes coming to the window for a bit of cheese and the only bird that I really miss is the sound of the starlings singing their hearts out on a grey spring morning in Tasmania. We don’t have any starlings here for some reason, nor magpies who are curiously absent from our garden. Perhaps the Currawongs have something to do with that! Cheers for a lovely post 🙂

Catherine Stewart
11 years ago

I haven’t heard willie wagtails sing at night but here the blasted plovers do their shrieking many times a night. Not as bad as the channel-billed cuckoo though, which my husband calls the ‘pterodactyl’ bird for its ghastly, primeval heart-stopping scream. Last night we heard the distant ‘woop woop’ of a powerful owl. I hope it was enjoying munching on a brush turkey…….

Julie Thomson
11 years ago

Yes, bird calls do stop you in your tracks, don’t they? I love the crack of the riflebird and the flute-like song of the butcherbirds. Night time sounds are still a mystery to me and am thumbing madly through “What Bird is That” to identify some of the melodious tones here. The curlew ‘s mournful note is one and it is creepy, but somehow comforting. We were told the Willie Wagtail’s cry was ” Sweet pretty creature”, and is it so that they signify an approaching death?