Nocturnal Magpies

01 November, 2009

Kookaburra and Magpie in tree at Malcolm house.
Kookaburra and Magpie in tree at Malcolm house.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: I live in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Last night I heard a magpie carolling in my backyard until quite late at night. Is this possible, or was I imagining things?

Answer: Yes, this is possible, if not probable. The call of the Australian Magpie is often heard at the start of the day, but night-calls have also been recorded during the bird’s mating season from August to October. During this period, the magpie’s famous carolling can be heard from as early as 4am, and continue late into the night.

These calls are connected to territorial defence, serving as a sonic claim to a defined area. They are often made by a single bird then affirmed by a response from a partner; this “duet” asserts the pair’s control of the territory, and warns other magpies against intrusion. This control becomes especially important during the mating season, which is why adult birds can sometimes be heard nocturnally in this period. (This is also the season during which a minority of male birds will “swoop” at humans traversing their territory.) 

Furthermore, this night-singing serves to assist in the retention of a strong pair bond, an imperative which is again closely linked to the mating season.

The Australian Magpie is not the only diurnal bird species known for nocturnal singing – the Willie Wagtail is another noteworthy example. Nevertheless, the prevalence of magpies in Victorian backyards makes it relatively likely that this phenomenon can be witnessed by attentive humans. After all, the species was recorded in over half of Victorian backyard surveys, making it second only to the Red Wattlebird in terms of prevalence.

We hope that you have enjoyed your ornithological night-listening. If not, rest assured that the mating season for Australian Magpies ends soon!

Further Reading

Gisela Kaplan, Australian Magpie: Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird. CSIRO, Collingwood, 2004.

Darryl Jones, Magpie Alert: Learning to Live With a Wild Neighbour. UNSW, 2002.

Comments (53)

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Trisha Arblaster 7 August, 2010 14:31
Aug 2010: I do love waking to the sound in the night and it is happening right now in Blackburn North. I was discussing this very thing with people also waking in Eltham and Croydon, great to find a comprehensive answer. So much nicer to wake to than traffic!
Ethan Hunt 10 August, 2010 01:00
Funny that! I'm in Blacky Nth and can hear them now. I'm glad that the male's finally found his partner. But it's not exactly doing wonders for my sleep. ~12:50am till dawn
Mellissa 30 August, 2010 00:30
So great to find this info! I'm living south of Perth WA and have been hearing one lonely maggie everynight for the past week or so...its good to read that perhaps he's not so lonely after-all! I do love lying in bed listening to their sound :)
Su Strafford 26 November, 2010 21:23
We are hearing these maggies as I write - in late November! Could it be the recent rains that have convinced them it's Spring again? They have been singing for quite a few days.
Caz 27 November, 2010 15:34
I TOO have recently experienced late night carolling.. I live in Gladstone Park (near the Melbourne Airport).. We have quite a few magpies in these areas and theres one main family that lives nearby who are currently caring and raising 2 juveniles... About 2 weeks ago, we were in bed late at night at about 10pm and we could hear magpie carolling for quite some time.. and then again another night.. Then early this morning (1am) i was driving home from being out.. and 2 mapgies were chilling out on the powerlines next to my house! wide awake.. grooming themselves and just chilling out like its daylight.. It was the most bizzare thing ever! This is fascinating stuff and im glad i found it.. it makes more sense now. But my encounters are recent and outside of the carolling i hear now & seeing them up at like 1am.. (mid November-late November).. still part of the whole mating thing?.. cheers
Discovery Centre 29 November, 2010 15:11

Hi Caz and Su, our Ornithologist has said these are interesting observations and are similar to my own in some way. The magpie’s breeding season extends from late winter through spring so there is every likelihood of the songs being heard from late June to the end of November with an occasional extension simply to prove we are wrong in our observations.

As for their apparent wakefulness during the night we must place some of the blame on ourselves. I’ve noted that many birds, especially magpies are attracted to bright artificial lighting. Street lights cast a fairly bright light that in turn brings on intensified insect activity, the magpies maintain a vigilance to feed on these. If the lights were not there neither would there be magpies up and about. One thing that I’ve also noted, as have hundreds of others, is that on bright moonlit nights other birds, especially Willie Wagtails, are very vocal.

Sally 1 August, 2012 00:56
Great to hear I'm not the only one experiencing this. I live in Doncaster East. I started hearing one last night at about 1.30am and tonight they've started early, before midnight! I wonder how many more days these fellas will go on for.
Sally 30 July, 2013 11:36
They started last week again. Last night it started around midnight.
Sim Hepton 17 August, 2012 22:36
We have them carolling at present. Street lights outside our house. All makes sense now.
BRIAN 25 July, 2013 23:27
11.25 pm and I've just been listening to this call, it was in trees about 300 yards away last night, tonight, 20 yards away, with reply(s) maybe 200 yards away, fascinating
Russell 27 July, 2013 00:35
Near enough to full moon over the last week and I have heard them from up til 1 am and from 3am-6am.Occam says the go all night long on a full moon, sometimes.
Aeron and Tilda 7 August, 2013 01:13
We are staying in a caravan park in Hastings on Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula and are laying here at 1 am listening to beautiful magpies. We are very happy to be able to find an explanation for something we have not previously heard. ;-)
Jill 26 August, 2013 13:12
I live in Victoria Park (Perth WA) and nearly every night, every winter, for the last 3 years at least, hear a sort of whistle rising and then dropping away, usually without a response, and occurring about every 5-7 seconds - not sure how long it goes on for because I usually drop off to sleep.... eventually! Sometimes the call varies a little and at times there's a bit of a warble that does sound like a magpie. I've never heard the night-call during daylight hours and wonder if it IS a magpie and if so, why only at night and only in the winter months?? DO hope you can help, even though WA is not exactly round the corner from Melbourne!
clint 6 September, 2013 10:36
glad I found an explanation. This has been driving me crazy and not sleeping well at all. They start here in Randwick Sydney at 1 - 2 and they stop at 6am and start up again soon after. I was thinking perhaps it was a distressed mum who had lost her chicks, and glad to read the correct explanation
Michelle Meyers 21 September, 2013 05:38
Sooo happy to find this infofmation on Google. I just adore the caroling of Maggpies - the best of all bird calls - but for the last 2 or 3 months have been less enthusiastic as their songs continue nightly, unabated. Here in Perth it's 3:30am and they've been caroling every 15-20 seconds - since mabe 11pm...don't they get tired? sore throats? I love them but think I need a change of tune - gonna put on the radio - no wait - its 3:40 and they've gone quiet - eurekka!! Sweet dreams everyone - Maggie's included :)
Ute Sarauer 27 August, 2015 00:03
I rather listen to magpies sing all night long then hear dogs yapping all night long. Also I feel sad that deaf people never can hear their lovely song.
Lina 11 July, 2014 04:06
How the heck are we meant to slept!!?? I can hear them from inside my bedroom and its 3:30am!
Jennifer 24 July, 2014 02:14
I live in Elsternwick, and our resident pair are carolling at 1 and 2 am at present.
Julie 28 July, 2014 00:54
I just love lying here listening to them, it's 1am in the morning and so gently breaking the silence is their almost ethereal song. Love it.. Although I may be one of the few who don't want them to stop. :-)
Sarah 4 August, 2014 23:43
Currently lying in bed reading my book here in Queenscliff, Vic. We have two enormous gumtrees (plus fig, lemon, orange, quince and plum trees) in our backyard. Basically a winged creatures paradise...including the odd bat. This is the first august I've noticed the nocturnal magpie carols. Must admit as a light sleeper who enjoys having her window open all year round it was a tad frustrating to begin with, but now that I know it's Romeo magpie singing to Juliet magpie I'm quite content to lie here & fall asleep listening to their love song :)
Jim 11 August, 2014 00:47
12:44am, point cook, sanctuary lakes. Listening to a magpie carolling from the frontyard tree. Magnificent :) I belieeve it is the same magpie that cleans neighbour gutter from dry leaves n branches, for a nest perhaps.
Melissa 12 August, 2014 02:09
Here in Berwick we have a pair caroling - at 2am! It's such a beautiful sound against the silence of the night!
Elise 13 August, 2014 00:19
12.16am Canberra, happening right this very minute. Lucky I love the little buggers & find their singing beautiful. Before reading this article I was worried something was wrong with them. But it's just that love is in the air
wesi 27 August, 2014 01:31
Jill. I used to live on leonard street and here that sound you are talking about it sounds like a cross between a siren and a bird
ollie 28 August, 2014 02:11
just noticed the warbling when i come home from nite shift,perth's eastern suburbs,beautiful sound
jan 1 September, 2014 00:46
Try playing the sounds of hawks on you tube they dont like it..might get some sleep.we live in perths northern suburbs driving us nuts not sleeping
Clare 11 September, 2014 22:27
In Perth Southern Suburbs with a night time warbler and thought it was just "special". Will sleep better knowing its a love story....
Gay 1 June, 2015 10:57
There is one at our place in Manly, NSW, a young one, who fossicks among leaves in the garden, carrolling very softly. It seems to me he is practicing singing so that when he grows up he will know what to do to attract a mate . . . ? It is really lovely and I could listen to it all day.
Trudy 29 July, 2015 19:25
So pleased I found this article and comments. I'm recovering from surgery and sometimes find it hard to sleep, and the last couple of nights have been surprised by a Magpie quietly carolling right through the night. The first night there was some moonlight, which I thought might explain the situation. But last night was overcast and dark, and still one bird was gently twittering away - as if to itself! I did wonder if it was suffering insomnia as well. I am in the country, so street lighting and surrounding artificial lighting is not an issue here. I'm used to the occasional Magpie carolling until late in the evening, but the first time I've heard of an all night stint!
Leonie 31 July, 2015 01:11
I am in Kilmore and have a very vocal magpie caroling as I write this at 1-30 am. We have many 'pies in our street and my dad taught us to give them a feed often and the family will not swoop.... He was right ! Been doing it for years now.
Tammy 9 August, 2015 23:19
You are all lucky, here in Esperance, south of Perth, sitting in our tree around 20mtrs away it starts around 8pm and goes all night until dawn. Beautiful yes but luckily for us we have ceiling fans to dull the noise.
Suzanne 21 August, 2015 01:49
13.47 here in southern Cranberry. Claude, our resident male has just finished his song.Insomniac bird lovers huh? Lovely to read this story and all the comments.
Katherine 24 August, 2015 00:24
Magpie carolling is one of my favourite sounds, but I've lost sleep believing that our ridiculously bright streetlights (go off around 5am) are the cause of the all night / every night calls. The breeding season territory maintenance explanation has given me much relief, though not 100%, given the full moon connection. I still think we're ignorantly stuffing around with their biology.
Tracy 24 August, 2015 23:59
In Albany WA, a few out there now singing away. Had to Google it to find out why, never noticed before.
caroline 27 August, 2015 03:13
from 2 30am when i first noticed them my local magpies have been singing and still going strong after 3am i live in frankston and this area has a brilliant bird population but most species are not heard until around sunrise have never before noticed the magpies this early in the morning and i love it
Jeanette 4 September, 2015 06:17
I live in Uralla NSW, and I'm so glad l found this article as our Magpies have been singing at night for about 2 weeks. Sometimes all night and yes the moon is full but up here in the mountains the moon is big for 3-4 days and they sing all night!!! I love the sound. I also give our Magpies small amounts of food and have never been swooped in my street. They can be really cheeky though and sit on my front door step calling until I come out with a bit of food!! Not all the time but when it is under 5 during the day they'll come calling!! 🌝🌱🌏
Lewin 8 September, 2015 07:11
In the last month or so there has been a maggie that starts calling bang on 3am! (Drummoyne, Sydney)
Annmarie 30 October, 2015 18:07
Yes, here too in Perth. One magpie in particular starts up around 2am every night. I wondered whether it was territorial because there has been a lot of subdivision here with people selling off their backyards and magpies losing their homes when the big trees are cut down to build on the land.
Jewel 19 February, 2016 00:38
I live in Jamestown South Australia.. It's Friday 19th, of February.. It's 12:06am.. About 10 minutes ago.. I heard magpies carolling.... Aren't they early? Is it possible due to the weather being cooler for this time of year? I've heard them now over the last few nights...
Naomi 19 July, 2016 15:09
Fabulous information, thank you! We live in Eden Valley (SA) and are surrounded by big, majestic gums which are inhabitited, among other things, by Magpies. They have been making such a noise at night and now I know why. Thank you and I can (try to!) rest easy that it will pass, noisey things!
Julia 19 July, 2016 21:53
Another winter, another mating season has begun! Magpies warbling in July outside my Northcote home. Thanks for explaining! I'd never heard them sing at night before.
Martin Brown 22 July, 2016 01:34
Ingle Farm (NE Adelaide) been listening to a few over the last few nights...all night. It's a beautiful sounds & helps me to sleep so much that I've even kept the window open to hear them....even with the temp dropping to near freezing.
Willow 2 August, 2016 23:29
Good to see other Adelaidians on here. I can't sleep at nights for the magpies in the Adelaide Hills. Had to google it and see what was going on... I do love the magpies but perhaps need some earplugs so I can get some rest. They wake me at 1.30am each night. Great to know what they are up to though!
S. Crowley 3 August, 2016 01:39
Thankyou to everyone who has commented and to the author of this article found in one search. I am on Elgar Rd in Surrey Hills Vic and currently not sleeping nights, quite surprised and almost concerned about theMagpie warbling which starts around 10-12pm and then continues unabated. I did wonder if the streetlights were to blame as well as our weird "seasons"/weather this year which has also succeeded in confusing some of our flowering plants, as well as our woolly dog, who has been shedding at completely the wrong time (making it 3 times in one 12 month period, instead of twice).
Jeanne 18 August, 2016 01:47
I'm in Camberwell and listening to the majestic native birds' songs at 1am. Very calming. Even my cats sleep better. ;)
David 19 August, 2016 04:09
I just stumbled across this website after hearing a kookaburra laughing at the full moon at 4am here in St Ives, NSW. It is the first time I can recall hearing a kookaburra laughing at night. It lasted about 30 seconds, then silence again. I thought I may have heard another kookaburra responding off in the distance, but I'm not certain. Now, back to sleep.
Jan Butler 19 August, 2016 15:55
Last night I heard the magpies warbling from 1a.m. on for hours for the very first time. Sounded like more than one but we have a family group of 6-7 here that are a tight unit who 'talk' to one another for hours every afternoon whilst also foraging together. I live in the middle of nowhere so there is no artificial light to stimulate them. But it was Full Moon. Last spring I heard the Willy-wagtails singing all night for the first time also - the most beautiful birdsong i have ever heard. I'm seventy years old, live in S.E. Qld. and its August. Thank heavens Nature still holds such delightful surprises.
Julie Wright 23 August, 2016 23:55
21.55 in Kelmscott, South of Perth. A beautiful, still, chilly night and I can hear two Magpies singing out to each other. They seem to repeat what the other has just said and then change the call slightly. Beautiful sound. Very peaceful on a still night.
Kylie 19 September, 2016 00:48
I'm in Werribee, Victoria and have been hearing the late night warbling of a magpie the last few nights - currently 12:48am and it's just started. Never heard magpies at night before, was starting to think I was going crazy, glad I googled it!
Shaz 19 September, 2016 19:21
Just had a lovely encounter with a young female who regularly visits with one other female and 2-3 males. She won't take food from our hands as some of the others do but will have a very animated conversation with you as she has done tonight. Almost seemed as if she was telling my daughter and I what has happened in her day. It brought a smile to both of our dials. Neighbours probably think we are mad for talking to a bird though!!....😂
Ceara Hogan 11 October, 2016 23:10
Am lying here listening to the gorgeous sound now. I'm in Craigieburn Vic. It s 11.10pm. This family of magpies has lived here for ages!
Cathg 22 October, 2016 01:52
1.45am here in Canberra & my resident pair (Bert & Cautious Connie) are calling out every 2-5mins. It's raining steadily, I was concerned there might be an issue with the bub I've been watching them raise in the gum outside my balcony for the last 6-7wks. He's only just started to launch out of the tree in the last 1-2days. But it's the sort of song they sing when they come to visit on the railing - I'm very lucky, I can stand 1 foot away & they'll serenade me in the morning, often trying to out-do each other in the volume stakes. I hope bub isn't too wet and cold, with all his downy feathers he's still nursing. But as some others have said, the sound is sweet and soothing... reminds me of where I live and how lucky I am to reside amongst the treetops, like a giant aviary. In the distance I can also hear some yellow tailed black cockatoos in the distance...I wonder what they're up to?!
harvey 21 November, 2016 21:49
I too listen to these sweeties at night but it's getting towards the end of November is this normal behavior.
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