Willie Wagtails calling at night
I recently had a comment from a reader about Willie Wagtails calling at night. This reader and his wife were constantly being woken at night by the loud calling of a Willie Wagtail in the tree outside their bedroom window. It seems that this was driving them crazy and wanted to know if I’d heard of this happening before, and what can be done about it.
This calling is known as the bird’s nocturnal song. Other Australian species, like the Magpie, also call nocturnally. It is a widespread and commonly observed action and is well documented in the literature and from studies of these species. There is quite a lengthy discussion on this in HANZAB (Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds) which forms the basis of what I have to say on this matter.
The nocturnal call of the Willie Wagtail is most commonly heard during moonlit nights and especially during the breeding season (August to February). From my own experience, the presence of a bright street light or car park lighting can also contribute to this phenomenon. Once started, the song can continue for lengthy periods, often stimulating other birds nearby to also call.
It is thought that the nocturnal song in Willie Wagtails is used to maintain its territory. During the night there is no need for parental duties such as feeding the young or protecting the nest, so the song can be used to consolidate the territory. Sound tends to carry further at night and there are fewer sounds in competition and this adds to its effectiveness. It has been found that most nocturnal songs are from a roosting bird some distance away from the nest.
Unfortunately for my reader there is no easy solution I know of for this problem. Moving to sleep in a room in a different part of the house may minimise the impact of the noise. Double glazed glass and better insulation may also help. Wearing ear plugs is another possible way out.
A change of attitude might help too. If a native bird is calling outside my bedroom window at 2am in the morning I can respond in several ways. I can get very agitated and annoyed and consequently will have a restless night. I could also take a more phlegmatic view and ignore it, not letting it get to me. I take the same approach when sleeping in an unfamiliar setting with plenty of traffic noise. One soon learns – by choice – to block out the noise, becoming accustomed to it. Or I can delight in the fact that this lovely little creature chooses to reside in MY garden. This positive feeling allows one to relax and get back to sleep.
My last suggestion didn’t work for us last summer. We had a Little Raven that would come at first light every morning and bang his thick, strong beak at his reflection in the glass of our bedroom window, calling raucously as he “attacked” this interloper. Being woken by such a noise about a metre from one’s sleeping head is not nice. Not nice at all. We were pleased when it stopped after about a month.
- Great Birding Moments #4: Willie Wagtails