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

Baby Magpie

We have had quite a flurry of birds breeding in our garden and nearby over the last month or so. White Winged Choughs, Little Ravens, New Holland Honeyeaters, Red Wattlebirds, House Sparrows, Common Starlings, Blackbirds and Grey Shrike-thrushes to name a few of them.

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

One species that I was surprised about was our resident Australian Magpies. They have been very quiet in recent weeks and I did not find a nest. Not that I looked very hard, mind you. Still, I probably expect them to nest within about 40 metres of the house as is their usual habit.

Yesterday I heard the unmistakable call of a baby magpie calling from the tall eucalypt tree next to the driveway. Sure enough, there was a newly fledged baby magpie all covered in downy feathers and constantly begging to be fed.

UPDATE: I have just written a new articles, with photos, of the latest baby magpie in our garden. To read it, click here.

Newly fledged Australian Magpie

Newly fledged Australian Magpie

October 2011 Update: This article has seen more visitors and comments than any other on this site. Thanks to all my readers who are so interested in sharing their stories and experiences with baby magpies. I’ve included more photos taken recently in our garden.

Book review: The fearsome flute players is a wonderful books about Australian Magpies and how to care for them. You can read my review of the book here – and there is a special offer for readers of Trevor’s Birding too.

Coffee mugs: you can now buy coffee mugs featuring one of my magpie photos – click here. Search the same site for many other items featuring my bird photos, including shirts, hats, stationery, key rings – and much more.

UPDATE October 25th 2013

Sadly I have had to close comments on this article, the most popular article I have ever written. It has had 488 comments, hundreds more than any other post on this site.

Today I received another 10 comments from someone called LEE who attempted to post some aggressive and crudely worded comments in an attempt to correct what others had written. Such language will not be approved here, nor will very long comments all in capital letters (ie shouting). Please take your inappropriate comments elsewhere – or start your own website.

UPDATE September 24th 2015: Let’s try again. I have reopened comments on this post again. Please keep comments civil.

Baby Australian Magpie just out of the nest

Baby Australian Magpie just out of the nest

Baby Australian Magpie (left) just out of the nest

Baby Australian Magpie just out of the nest