RE: Lyrebirds & mimicry

To: "'Birding-aus'" <>
Subject: RE: Lyrebirds & mimicry
From: "Osborn, Paul PR" <>
Date: Thu, 20 Nov 1997 14:39:43 +1100
I found Syd's message (as forwarded by Frank O'Connor) on Lyrebirds and
why mimicked birds aren't affected to a great degree very interesting.
Evidence to support his comments is available in the Superb Lyrebirds of
Tasmania. These were purposely introduced (to Mt. Field NP) from the
mainland. The Lyrebirds there now are descendants of the introduced ones
and include in their repertoires the call of the Eastern Whipbird. The
Whipbird is not present in Tasmania so the call has been learnt from
other Lyrebirds. It would be interesting to see if the call evolves over
time, with no Whipbirds to keep it 'true to the model'. 

What isn't explained in Syd's message is that some degree of song
learning from the local environment must happen otherwise we wouldn't
have Lyrebirds imitating chainsaws, trail bikes and (as I have heard in
Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve) rifle shots.
Paul Osborn
Research Scientist
BHP Research - Newcastle Labs
PO Box 188 Wallsend, NSW, 2287
Ph: (02) 49792705
VPN: 8843 2705
Fax: (02) 49792022

> ----------
> From:
> :
> Sent:         Thursday, 20 November 1997 9:06
> To:   
> Subject:      Re: tapes/mimicry
> This is a reply of interest to others that I received from Syd Curtis.
> ---------------------- Forwarded by Frank O'Connor/Argyle on 20/11/97
> 06:05
> AM ---------------------------
>  on 19/11/97 05:08:44 AM
> To:   Frank O'Connor/Argyle
> cc:
> Subject:  Re: tapes/mimicry
> >I have replied because I wondered what the response was
> >to birds that use mimicry such as lyrebirds, orioles, etc.  Does the
> >imitated species come running???
> >
> >Frank
> You've raised a very interesting topic, Frank.  The simple answer is
> that
> no the other species do not come running.  So why not?
> Aren't the imitations good enough?  Yes they certainly are.  Lyrebirds
> can
> copy almost any sound with great accuracy.  And as you no doubt know,
> quite
> poor tape recordings or inferior human imitations can call in a lot of
> species.
> There are two reasons why another species does not react to a
> lyrebird's
> imitation of its call.
> Firstly, when birds do react to playback it's because the bird is
> territorial and it's defending its territory.  This is mainly
> associated
> with breeding and out of the breeding season the bird won't react.
> Lyrebirds (both species) are winter breeders and the species whose
> calls
> the lyrebird is using are not.  They are mostly silent when the
> lyrebirds
> are in full voice.  Logrunners and Eastern Whipbirds do breed in
> winter in
> the Albert Lyrebird area, and it is noticeable that their calls are
> not
> included in the Albert Lyrebrd's breeding-season song.
> Secondly, the lyrebirds use only short sequences of calls of other
> species
> which they put into a largely continuous stream of sound.  It is
> apparent
> to a human listener that this stream of sound is all coming from the
> one
> source, and so it is likely that this is also apparent to other
> species -
> almost certain, in fact, for playback of lyrebird song will often
> bring up
> species that regularly dine at the lyrebird's table: they know it's a
> lyrebird and that he is turning over the litter and soil and  there
> will be
> pickings of soil/litter fauna too small for the lyrebird to bother
> about.
> Len Smith in one of his excellent lyrebird books has a remarkable
> photo of
> a Superb Lyrebird in the act of throwing away a Yellow Robin that got
> in
> his way!
> I have had Yellow Robins react in this way to playback of Albert
> Lyrebird
> song.  And I believe both Yellow Robins and Pilotbirds will do so with
> playback of Superb Lyrebird song.
> And before I'm taken to task for using playback, let me state my
> position:
> that I believe a limited amount of playback is justified if it is used
> in a
> way that leads to increased knowledge of the species or in some way
> assists
> in its conservation.  (Which causes a bird the greater distress -
> playback
> or mist-netting/banding?)
> Incidentally, the lyrebirds' breeding season song which includes so
> much
> 'mimicry', is learnt from other lyrebirds: they are not directly
> mimicking
> the other species, though hearing the other species keeps the
> lyrebirds
> copies true to the original models.  Albert Lyrebirds weave the
> mimicry and
> a few other sounds into a stereotyped song lasting about 50 seconds
> which
> they cycle over and over - the "albertcycle".  All the sounds come in
> exactly the same order each time.  And every male in a local area uses
> the
> SAME ALBERTCYCLE.  So they must be learning from older lyrebirds.
> With
> Superbs the 'mimicry' is random, but I suspect that were one to go to
> the
> trouble of listing all the mimicked sounds for each Superb in a lek
> area,
> it would be found that all had the same list.  Again learnt from older
> lyrebirds.
> Look out towards the middle of next year for an article on lyrebirds
> in
> "Nature Australia", the nature magazine of the Australian Museum.  I
> have
> reason to expect that it will have photos of the Superb from Len Smith
> and
> of the Albert from Glen Threlfo.  If so, it will be worth buying just
> for
> Glen's superb photos of this difficult species. (Until about 30 years
> ago,
> it had never been photographed in the wild at all, so shy is it.)
> Why not subscribe now, Frank, (if you don't already), and be sure of a
> copy?  It's a quality publication.  Annual subscription (4 issues) $33
> within Australia; two years for $63, three for $89.  The toll-free
> number
> is 1800 028 558.  (At least that was the case when the Autumn 1997
> issue
> was printed which is the one that happens to be on my desk at the
> moment.)
> Syd
> H Syd Curtis

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