Re: Heathland Avian Mimic

To: Syd Curtis <>
Subject: Re: Heathland Avian Mimic
From: Michael Todd <>
Date: Sat, 22 Aug 1998 12:45:53 +1000
Syd Curtis wrote:

> In my addiction to lyrebirds I haven't quite reached the status of
> "expert"
> - one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows
> everything
> about nothing - but outside my chosen field I sometimes astound myself
> with
> the depth of my ignorance.
> So someone on birding-aus please help:
> At the end of his Foreword to Ray Littlejohns' book "The Magic Voice"
> (1933), Alec Chisholm points out that Lyrebirds are not Australia's
> only
> mimics and he writes -
>         "But Australia contains at least twenty other diverse species
> of
> birds which are highly skilled at vocal imitations, and one in
> particular,
> a heathland sprite rather smaller than a sparrow, is relatively no
> less
> accomplished than the lyrebird."
> So what is Chisholm's "heathland sprite" that mimics so well?
> Syd Curtis at Hawthorne, Qld.
> H Syd Curtis

 Hello Syd,

The bird concerned is definitely the Chestnut-rumped Hylacola or
Heathwren, one of my favourite birds. It is an absolutely tremendous
mimic and I understand that Alec Chisholm was one of its greatest
fans.He voted it second only to the lyrebird but regarded it as better
than the lyrebird in one respect in that it weaves its imitations into
its own song whereas the lyrebird "speaks" its imitations. In the Sydney
area heath-wrens have been recorded as imitating the voices of 37 bird
species as opposed to 26 in the same district by the Superb Lyrebird
(see Serventy et al, 1982).

During fieldwork for my Masters project I was fortunate to find it at a
number of locations on the western side of Lake Macquarie in open forest
away from coastal heath. The name is a little bit of a misnomer. I've
listed a couple of the best articles on this under-rated little bird

R. J. Eddy. Heath Wrens in Central Victoria. Australian Bird Watcher 1
(2), 1959.
J. V. Ryan. Nearly forty years with Hylacola spp. Australian Bird
Watcher 8 (2):42-50, 1979.
V. N. Serventy, A. R. McGill, J. D. Pringle, and T. R. Lindsey.
Chestnut-tailed Heath-wren. In: The Wrens and Warblers of Australia,
edited by V. N. Serventy, A. R. McGill, J. D. Pringle, and T. R.
Lindsey,Angus and Robertson Publishers, 1982, p. 122-125.


Michael Todd,
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Newcastle,
Callaghan, N.S.W., 2308, Australia

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