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Lyrebirds – light on colour, heavy on soul

Minnamurra Falls must be the spiritual home of the Lyrebird (at least an adopted one anyway). Nestled in a sandstone ampitheatre, rainforest gullies provide a sheltered haven for these charismatic birds.

Foxes are known to take juvenile Lyrebirds (Ref 1), and there is also evidence that fox control enables populations to rebound (Ref 2). Gratefully, there is a high priority placed on fox control in the National Park by the Plan of Management (Ref 3), and this geographic harbour with a good control program would make a strong-hold. The sheer sandstone cliffs surrounding the gully make a natural barrier to fox incursion from over-the-top, meaning fox control in this locality is easier than more open sites [i.e. those open to reinvasion from all sides].

Seeing Lyrebirds foraging so easily, with their entourage of Yellow Robins and Scrub Wrens picking up the crumbs, inspired me to scrounge around for further info on this amazing creature. So here are some curios I uncovered scratching the surface of the literature litter…

A successful translocation

Interestingly, Lyrebirds are one species that has been successfully translocated for biodiversity conservation. In the 1930s, conservation-minded folks concerned with potential fox impacts on Lyrebirds decided to setup a population on the fox-free Tasmania.  Across 15 years to 1949 they shipped 22 to Tasmania. Decades later they are flourishing with 8,000 now serenading the wet forests of Tasmania – and no doubt helping to secure the long-term conservation of this species. However, I am left wondering what the early Lyrebird population founders thought of Tassie Devils?

Inter-generational mimicry

Of course the call of the Lyrebird, and specifically its mimicry, is renowned – in Victoria Lyrebirds replicated 29 other bird species – elsewhere it has been widely reported they can mimic ‘human sounds’; chain saws, cars and motorbikes.

Amazingly, the new Lyrebirds of Tassie passed from one generation to the next – for forty years – the call of the Eastern Whipbird, although the species was not physically present in Tasmania, its calls echoed through Tasmanian forests (Ref 4 & 5).

Lyrebird mimicry is so good – a recording of a Lyrebird call played back to Grey Shrike-thrushes will cause them to be attracted to the speaker playing the call (Ref 6).

lillyrebird

Ms 4’s intergenerational depiction of the Lyrebird after visiting Minnamurra Falls

Groovin’ to the beats

More recent behavioural research has shown that not only are Lyrebirds creating the beats, but the males are putting dance moves down to go with them.

Male Lyrebirds matched ‘subsets of songs from their extensive vocal repertoire with different combinations of tail, wing and leg movements … and so appear to engage in intentional choreography’ (Ref 7).

In the absence of spectacular colours, Lyrebirds have gone for tunes, grooves and a special harp-like tail to woo the ladies.

Check the Lyrebirds’ soul out for yourself – at Minnamurra Rainforest – the boardwalks are amazing…

The boardwalks are amazing, the ecosystem engineering on the way is obvious, and the waterfall isn't too shabby either...

The boardwalks are amazing, the ecosystem engineering on the way is obvious, and the waterfall isn’t too shabby either…

 

 

 

 

References

  1. Ford et al. (2001) Why have birds in the woodlands of Southern Australia declined? Biological Conservation 97: 71-88
  2. Lyrebirds increased in activity against a background of diminishing fox activity – Claridge et al. (2010) Trends in the activity levels of forest-dwelling vertebrate fauna against a background of intensive baiting for foxes. Forest Ecology and Management 260: 822–832
  3. Fox control is listed as a high priority action in Buderroo National Park (which includes Minnamurra Falls) – see the Plan of Management
  4. Smith (1988) in (Ref 5)
  5. Zann and Dunstan (2008) Mimetic song in superb lyrebirds: species mimicked and mimetic accuracy in different populations and age classes. Animal Behaviour 76: 1043-1054
  6. Dalziell and Margate (2012) Fooling the experts: accurate vocal mimicry in the song of the superb lyrebird, Menura novaehollandiaeAnimal Behaviour 83

Being an ecosystem engineer, the Tasmanians are somewhat concerned about the Lyrebird’s potential impacts on locally endemic species – but the jury is still out on the materiality of this risk (and in all likelihood it probably pales to insignificance in the context of Forestry and the risk of fox incursion to the State).

 

Header Lyrebird Image by Roger Powell via Getty

 

 

 

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lovely post Jason. Minnamurra Falls seems to be like some of the tracks in the Katoomba area, where the lyrebirds have become so accustomed to people that they’re now incredibly confiding – far from the “shy and elusive” bird that is sometimes described.
    And those Tasmanian lyrebirds are indeed an interesting case. I’ve heard a recording of one made about 60 years after their translocation where the whipbird call is still detectable, but only just. During this time they have gradually incorporated the Tassie bird calls into their song.
    As always, among the most fascinating of birds. Thank you for this well researched post.
    Carol

    August 2, 2016
  2. It looks as though you had a spectacular day at Minnamurra.

    Lyrebirds abound further up the mountain too, and even on the top of the escarpment in Barren Grounds Nature Reserve. I’m lucky enough to stay regularly halfway up Jamberoo Mountain at Ben Ricketts Environmental Preserve, where I’ve spent a lot of time chasing the birds through the rainforest and being serenaded over breakfast. They are delightful.

    August 18, 2016

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