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Piney Lakes Environmental Education Centre

555 Leach Highway

Winthrop, WA 6150

Australia

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Learn more about the communication and cognition of our cheeky feathered friends, the Western Australian Magpie.

About this event

With their warbling calls, cheeky antics and somewhat unsociable behaviour during nesting season, magpies live alongside many of us in Perth. Most of us known they are quite clever birds, and you may have heard tales of magpies that learn to talk or that recognise certain humans, but have you ever wanted to know more?

How do magpies communicate with each other? How complex is their communication? What are their social groups and relationships like? Does the structure of their social group affect how clever they are?

Come along to an evening at Piney Lakes Environmental Education Centre to learn more about magpies from two UWA post graduate students who are part of the Western Magpie Research Project. Bring some friends, hear from the researchers, take part in discussion and enjoy the evening. Tea and coffee and some light snacks will also be provided.

Piney Lakes Environmental Education Centre is accessed from the westbound lanes on Leach Hwy.

Contact registers remain mandatory. Visitors are required to check in with the SafeWA app or the paper contact registers provided.

Researcher information:

Sarah Walsh: Call combining in the Western Australian magpie

The ability to combine sounds into an infinite array of larger meaningful structures is a defining trait of humans, though little is known about its evolutionary roots.

Research in the past few decades has revealed some ability to combine meaningful calls in several non-human mammalian and avian species, but the extent of combinatorial capacities in these species remains elusive.

Data collected from a wild population of Western Australian magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen dorsalis) suggests this species can combine meaningful discrete calls to form larger meaningful sequences.

My current research focuses on investigating the functional processing behind call combining in adults, and also how this ability develops in fledglings. Specifically, I use natural observation, audio recording and playback experiments to empirically test adult response to discrete calls and call combinations, and explore whether the development of these vocalisations is affected by the level of complexity in a fledgling’s social environment.

As magpies are one of two non-human lifelong vocal learners known to be capable of combining meaningful acoustic units (the other being elephants), they are an ideal candidate to shed light on potential selective pressures promoting the evolution of complex communication, and therefore human language.

Lizzie Speechley: The Mystery of the group size effect.

Previous work on the Western Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen dorsalis) has yielded convincing evidence of a relationship between cognition and group size however, the mechanisms underpinning this relationship remain unclear.

My research tests whether the group size-cognition relationship is underpinned by the complexity of social interactions within groups. Specifically, I use social network analysis and cognitive testing to explore whether this group size-cognition relationship is underpinned by the complexity of social interactions between group members.

My study directly and simultaneously quantifies social network position and cognitive performance in a wild animal, providing a rare insight into the relationship between social complexity and the evolution of cognition.

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Piney Lakes Environmental Education Centre

555 Leach Highway

Winthrop, WA 6150

Australia

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Organiser Piney Lakes Environmental Education Centre (PLEEC)

Organiser of The Western Australian Magpie

PLEEC is a unique sustainable building set within the urban bushland environment in the City of Melville. Programs and events offered at PLEEC are designed to encourage positive behaviour change towards the environment, sustainable living and cultural awareness. 

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