Paul Osborn, Research Scientist, BHP Research - Newcastle Labs, has commented
(20 Nov 1997):
<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.
In over 30 years of tape-recording and listening to lyrebirds (both
species) neither Norman Robinson, who was the principal CSIRO scientist
studying them, nor I, have ever heard a lyrebird imitate a mechanical sound
of human origin. (They do imitate the noise of a beak being tapped on a
branch, the rustle of feathers and the flapping of wings.) I'd be most
interested to hear any tape-recording of a lyrebird imitating a mechanical
sound. They certainly would be able to if they wanted to, and if it
happens it's most likely to be outside the breeding season which lasts
roughly May-August. Their breeding season vocal behaviour is now well
known and does not include such sounds.
There was a story I once heard, back in the days when Washpool, back behind
Grafton, was still a State Forest. A sleeper-cutter, is boiling his billy
for an early morning cup of tea when he hears the sound of a chain-saw
being started. That's funny, he thinks, there's no-one cutting up here but
me. Brrrt, brrrrt, brrrt,... then it fires and the motor starts to
scream. Crikey, he thinks, the throttle's jammed. If he doesn't do
something, it'll blow up. And sure enough, right then there's an explosion
and silence. I'd better check and see if he's all right, he thinks.
He carefully notes where the sound seemed to be coming from - near an old
tallow-wood with a broken top way down in the gully. Pushes his way down
through the thick bush and comes on a lyrebird mound .... covered in fresh
blood and guts and feathers - the ultimate in lyrebird mimicry!
It seems likely that reports of lyrebirds mimicking axe-blows etc., are
equally imaginary. But just maybe ...
Syd Curtis at Hawthorne.
H Syd Curtis