Surprising Sounds

By Sally Thorsteinsson, UNE Discovery

Magpie - Photo by Anima Visual on Unsplash

Whether we live in a town or on a farm, every day we hear nature around us. Sometimes nature’s sounds blend into the background, but when we tune in, we realise there is a great variety – some musical, some quiet, some scary, and some just strange.

Like us, animals make sounds to communicate with each another and with other animals. Sometimes these sounds can be quite disconcerting. Have you heard the shrieks of a brushtail possum? It is one of Australia’s more common mammals but its noises can be scary when you hear them for the first time. Some animals can communicate over startlingly long distances. Elephants can communicate with others in their herd by making very low sounds that can travel 10km! Animals such as bats also use sound for hunting. They make very high squeaky sounds that can echo off their prey so precisely that they can determine its size, shape and position.

Would you like to have some fun hearing and testing your knowledge of some of the weird and wonderful animal sounds of Australia? ABC has published a quiz called Bird, bat or possum? Think you know your Aussie fauna?

Koala climbing a tree
Koala - Photo by Steve Franklin on Unsplash

During National Science Week, ABC Science asked people to go online to eavesdrop on the animal kingdom, explore the wonder and science of bioacoustics, and vote for their favourite call of the wild. The request for Australia’s favourite animal sound recently wrapped up with the magpie taking a landslide win. Of the 145,038 votes, 36% were for the magpie, reflecting the soft spot we have for their melodic song. The kookaburra (19%) and the butcherbird (9%) made up the top three.

Thousands of Australians responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to vote for their favourite local animal sound, and I am sure that the competition has encouraged more people to tune into nature’s sounds. Many people noted that it was the familiar tune of the magpie that they missed most whilst away from Australia and which greeted them joyously when they returned home. As ABC’s Science editor, Jonathon Webb, comments that magpies are “found in almost every part of this enormous country, so their sound is not only beautiful and recognisable – it’s familiar.”

Although I adore the magpie’s magnificent four-octave song, I voted for the fairywren (which finished with 2% of the votes), for what it signifies in our garden. During the last drought, we lost all the small birds which visited and nested, so I welcomed back the fairy wrens when they finally returned. I assume it indicated that our garden was again a more friendly environment for them, something I celebrate every morning as I hang out the washing and listen to their trills and chatters.

Eastern Banjo Frog

Read this story and at the bottom you’ll find recordings of the 28 top sounds as voted by the public. They’re fascinating!

We sure do have some quirky, interesting and beautiful sounds coming from our native animals and birds!  Listen out for them next time you’re out in the bush, your local park or your backyard.

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