Book review: “The fearsome flute players”

The fearsome flute players

Book Review:

Roetman, P. E. J. and Daniels, C. B., 2011. The fearsome flute players: Australian magpies in our lives. Adelaide, Crawford House Publishing.

I have just finished reading this delightful book and thoroughly recommend it to all of my readers. I was asked by one of the authors to review this book on this site; I’m pleased I agreed.

Citizen Scientists

The fearsome flute players captures the very essence of what magpies mean to the people of South Australia. The project was based here in South Australia but the findings would be true throughout this vast land of ours. This book is the result of Citizen Scientists throughout SA. It was heavily promoted by Chris Daniels who was a regular guest on the morning radio show hosted by Matthew Abraham and David Bevan on 891 ABC Adelaide. They have written the foreword to the book. (They’ve also since shifted to the Breakfast programme.)

Survey forms

Chris Daniels, along with Matt and David, asked their listeners to fill in a special survey form on the ABC Radio web site. The survey allowed citizen scientists throughout the state to enter their observations of Australian Magpies in gardens, parks, schools, ovals, farms – wherever. They were also able to relate their stories about the magpies they saw, fed, helped when injured and any other bird/human interactions they cared to tell. The result is fascinating – and at times, humorous – reading.

Results: magpie stories

A total of 1,927 people filled in the survey. I was one of them. Of those, 1,222 people responded to the magpie story request, creating a rich source of information for the authors. These stories make up the bulk of the book and are certainly the great strength of the volume. A few of these stories are thought provoking, some are serious, many are hilarious and all well worth reading. Some of the best are illustrated by appropriately cheeky cartoon sketches, another highlight of the book.


The various chapters cover many aspects of the lives of magpies, always including human interactions and relationships with these wonderful birds. This book is not a scientific thesis paper; it has been written without jargon and will therefore be accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds. It has a valuable place in any school library collection. While the chapters do cover topics like the magpie’s song and mimicry, food, foraging habits, territories, nesting and care for injured and orphaned birds, the main emphasis in each section is the stories told by the people.

Purchase the book

This wonderful book is available in some ABC centres and selected bookshops. Alternatively, you can order your copy online from the bookshop of the Barbara Hardy Centre for Sustainable Urban Environments (click here). On that page you can read a sample chapter and browse through the table of contents page.


If you order online and mention you read about this book on Trevor’s Birding, you will also receive a free CD of 200 photos featuring water, including many water bird photos. You can see sample of the photos here.

Australian Magpie


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