Magrath Lab - Behavioural ecology; acoustic communication; ornithology

Male Lyrebird in display

We have broad interests in behavioural ecology, particularly acoustic communication and breeding biology in birds. Our current work is focussed on communication about danger, eavesdropping among species, and vocal mimicry. In addition to our current projects, we have worked on duetting, brood division, hatching asynchrony, egg size, life-history and cooperative breeding in birds.



Rob Magrath

Rob Magrath
I completed my first degree at Monash University in Melbourne, and then worked on a conservation biology project on lesser...

Divisional Visitor

Honours Student

PhD Student

Postdoctoral Scientist

Visiting Fellow

Visiting PhD Student


Open to students


Selected publications

  • Ręk, P. & Magrath, R. D. 2016. Multimodal duetting in magpie-larks: how do vocal and visual components contribute to a cooperative signal’s function? Animal Behaviour, 117: 35-42.
  • Murray, T. G. & Magrath, R. D. 2015. Does signal deterioration compromise eavesdropping upon other species' alarm calls? Animal Behaviour 108: 33-41.
  • Magrath, R. D., Haff, T. M., McLachlan, J. R. & Igic, B. 2015. Learning by wild birds to eavesdrop on heterospecific alarm calls. Current Biology 25: 2047-2050. http://
  • Igic, B., McLachlan, J., Lehtinen, I. & Magrath, R. D. 2015. Crying wolf to a predator: deceptive vocal mimicry by a bird protecting young. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 282: 20150798.
  • Ibáñez-Álamo, J. D., Magrath, R. D., Oteyza, J. C., Chalfoun, A. D., Haff, T. M. Schmidt, K. A., Thomson, R. L. & Martin, T. E. 2015. Nest predation research: recent findings and future perspectives. Journal of Ornithology 156 (Suppl. 1): S247-S262.
  • Haff, T. M., Horn, A. G., Leonard, M. L. & R. D. Magrath. 2015. Conspicuous calling near cryptic nests: a review of hypotheses and a field study on white-browed scrubwrens. Journal of Avian Biology46: 289-302. 
  • Dalziell, A. H., Welbergen, J. A., Igic, B. & R. D. Magrath. 2015. Avian vocal mimicry: a unified conceptual framework. Biological Reviews90: 643-658.
  • Magrath, R. D., Haff, T. M., Fallow, P. M. & Radford, A. N. 2015. Eavesdropping on heterospecific alarm calls: from mechanisms to consequences. Biological Reviews90: 560-586.
  • Igic, B. & Magrath, R. D. 2014. A songbird mimics different heterospecific alarm calls in response to different types of threat. Behavioral Ecology25: 538–548.
  • Dalziell, A.H., Peters, R.A., Cockburn, A., Dorland, D.D., Maisey, A.C. & Magrath, R.D. 2013. Dance choreography is coordinated with song repertoire in a complex avian display. Current Biology, 23 (12): 1132-1135
  • Haff TM, Magrath RD. 2013. To call or not to call: parents assess the vulnerability of their young before warning them about predatorsBiology Letters, 9: 20130745.
  • Igic, B. & Magrath, R. D. 2013. Fidelity of vocal mimicry: identification and accuracy of mimicry of heterospecific alarm calls by the brown thornbill. Animal Behaviour, 85: 593-603.
  • Fallow, P. M., Pitcher, B. J. & Magrath, R.D. 2013. Alarming features: birds use specific acoustic properties to identify heterospecific alarm calls. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 280: 20122539.
  • Haff, T. M. & Magrath, R. D. 2013. Eavesdropping on the neighbours: fledglings learn to respond to heterospecific alarm. Animal Behaviour, 85: 411-418.
  • Haff, T. M. & Magrath, R. D. 2012. Learning to listen? Nestling response to heterospecific alarm calls. Animal Behaviour, 84: 1401-1410
  • Dalziell, A. H. & Magrath, R. D. 2012. Fooling the experts: accurate vocal mimicry in the song of the superb lyrebird, Menura novaehollandiae. Animal Behaviour, 83: 1401-1410.
  • Magrath, R. D. & Bennett, T. H. 2012. A micro-geography of fear: learning to eavesdrop on alarm calls of neighbouring heterospecifics. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B 279: 902-909.
  • Haff, T. M. & Magrath, R. D. 2011. Calling at a cost: elevated nestling calling attracts predators to active nests. Biology Letters 7: 493-495.
  • Fallow, P. M., Gardner, J. L. & Magrath, R. D. 2011. Sound familiar? Acoustic similarity provokes responses to unfamiliar heterospecific alarm calls. Behavioral Ecology, 22: 401-410.
  • Gardner, J. L., Trueman, J. W. H., Ebert, D., Joseph, L. & Magrath, R. D. 2010. Phylogeny and evolution of the Meliphagoidea, the largest radiation of Australasian songbirds. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 55: 1087-1102.
  • Magrath, R. D., Haff, T. M., Horn, A. G., & Leonard, M. L. 2010. Calling in the face of danger: predation risk and acoustic communication by parent birds and their offspring. Advances in the Study Behavior, 41: 187-253.
  • Goodale, E., Beauchamp, G. Magrath, R. D., Nieh, J. C. & Ruxton, G. D. 2010. Interspecific information flow influences animal community structure. Trends in Evolution and Ecology, 25: 354-361. 
  • Haff, T. & Magrath, R. D. 2010. Vulnerable but not helpless: nestlings are fine-tuned to cues of approaching danger. Animal Behaviour, 79: 487-496.
  • Fallow, P. M. & Magrath, R. D. 2010. Eavesdropping on other species: mutual interspecific understanding of urgency information in avian alarm calls. Animal Behaviour, 79: 411-417. 
  • Hingee, M. & Magrath, R. D. 2009. Flights of fear: a mechanical wing whistle sounds the alarm in a flocking bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 276: 4173-4179.
  • Magrath, R. D., Pitcher, B. J. & Gardner, J. L. 2009. An avian eavesdropping network: alarm signal reliability and heterospecific response. Behavioral Ecology, 20: 745-752.
  • Magrath, R. D., Pitcher, B. J. & Gardner, J. L. 2009. Recognition of other species' aerial alarm calls: speaking the same language or learning another? Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B: 276, 769-774.
  • Magrath, R. D., Pitcher, B. J. & Dalziell, A. H. 2007. How to be fed but not eaten: nestling responses to parental food calls and the sound of a predator's footsteps. Animal Behaviour, 74: 1117-1129.
  • Magrath, R. D., Pitcher, B. J. & Gardner, J. L. 2007. A mutual understanding? Interspecific responses by birds to each other's aerial alarm calls. Behavioral Ecology 18: 944-951.
  • Hall, M. L. & Magrath, R. D. 2007. Temporal coordination signals coalition quality. Current Biology 17: R406-407.
  • Magrath R. D., Platzen D. & Kondo, J. 2006. From nestling calls to fledgling silence: adaptive timing of change in response to aerial alarm calls. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 273: 2335-2341.
  • Platzen D. & Magrath R. D. 2005. Adaptive differences in response to two types of parental alarm calls in altricial nestlings. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B 272: 1101-1106.
  • Leavesley A & Magrath RD. 2005. Communicating about danger: urgency alarm calling in a bird. Animal Behaviour 70: 365-373.
  • Platzen, D. & Magrath, R. D. 2004. Parental alarm calls suppress nestling vocalization. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 271, 1271-1276.
  • Magrath, R. D., Johnstone, R. A. & Heinsohn, R. G. 2004. Reproductive skew. In: Ecology and Evolution of Cooperative Breeding in Birds (Ed. by Koenig, W. D. & Dickinson, J. L.), pp. 157-176. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Leedman, A. W. & Magrath, R. D. 2003. Long-term brood division and exclusive parental care in a cooperatively breeding passerine. Animal Behaviour, 65, 1093-1108.
  • Magrath, R. D. 2001. Group breeding dramatically increases reproductive success of yearling but not older female scrubwrens: a model for cooperatively breeding birds? Journal of Animal Ecology, 70, 370-385.
  • Nicholls, J. A., Double, M. C., Rowell, D. M. & Magrath, R. D. 2000. The evolution of cooperative and pair breeding in the thornbills Acanthiza (Aves: Pardalotidae). Journal of Avian Biology, 31, 165-176.
  • Krebs, E. A. & Magrath, R. D. 2000. Food allocation in crimson rosella broods: parents differ in their responses to chick hunger. Animal Behaviour, 59, 739-751.
  • Hall, M. L. & Magrath, R. D. 2000. Duetting and mate-guarding in Australian magpie-larks (Grallina cyanoleuca). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 47, 180-187.
  • Magrath, R. D. & Whittingham, L. A. 1997. Subordinate males are more likely to help if unrelated to the breeding female in cooperatively-breeding white-browed scrubwrens. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 41, 185-192.
  • Whittingham, L. A., Dunn, P. O. & Magrath, R. D. 1997. Relatedness, polyandry and extra-group paternity in the cooperatively-breeding white-browed scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 40, 261-70.
  • Crick, H. Q. P., Gibbons, D. W. & Magrath, R. D. 1993. Seasonal variation in clutch size in British birds. Journal of Animal Ecology, 62, 263-273.
  • Magrath, R. D. 1992. The effect of egg mass on the growth and survival of blackbirds: a field experiment. Journal of Zoology, London, 227, 639-653.
  • Magrath, R. D. 1991. Nestling weight and juvenile survival in the blackbird, Turdus merula. Journal of Animal Ecology, 60, 335-351.
  • Magrath, R. D. 1990. Hatching asynchrony in altricial birds. Biological Reviews, 65, 587-622.
  • Magrath, R. D. 1989. Hatching asynchrony and reproductive success in the blackbird. Nature, 339, 536-538.

All publications

News & events


A bird’s eye view on magpie attacks
Any cyclist with a passing familiarity with the science precinct at ANU would know about The Magpies of Linnaeus Way.
Fairy wren. Image credit: Jessica-McLachlan
After only two days of training, fairy wrens learnt to flee when they heard an alarm call that was foreign to them, showing that birds can learn to eavesdrop on the calls of other species.
Tiny birds cry wolf to scare predators
The brown thornbill mimics the hawk warning call of a variety of birds to scare off predators threatening its nest. This deception is captured in the short video 'Birds cry wolf to scare predators'.
ARC logo
The School has done very well with regards to Discovery projects and DECRA fellowships. Congratulations to all successful applicants.


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