Albert's Lyrebirds on Tamborine Mountain

Subject: Albert's Lyrebirds on Tamborine Mountain
From: Lloyd Nielsen <>
Date: Wed, 03 Nov 2010 07:23:06 +1000
I lived on Tamborine Mountain for 21 years from 1970 until 1991 and one of my passions was following Albert's Lyrebirds which I did most winters as soon as the males started singing. We had formed a group on the Mountain - Tamborine Field Naturalists - and during that time, we did an annual count of singing males through the winter months. There seemed to be a constant number of around 23 males which did not vary much in number over the 21 years. I am not sure if the count continued after I left the Mountain.

Syd (Curtis) employed me in the early 1970s at one stage through National Parks to locate nests of Albert's Lyrebird on Tamborine. I think I found 3 nests initially over a couple of years. However, I kept the check going for the next 16 years or so. Nests were difficult to find on Tamborine but much easier to find on the Great Divide to the west. We blamed dry weather at the time for lack of nests but over the years as I kept following them, it was fairly obvious that females simply did not breed as frequently as those on the Great Divide. They seemed to go years without breeding even though the males were in full voice during the winter months. I got to know individual birds quite intimately - we had two singing males and females in a block of rainforest on our own property. At one stage after about 8 years of not finding a nest, it seemed that every female had a nest the next season. I found the nests of about 10 females while I lived there. Females were loyal to nesting sites, usually building on the same ledge each time they nested. In the years when I could find no nests in regular sites, I made a point of searching the entire cliff lines as well as other typical sites that the Main Range lyrebirds used just to be sure there was no breeding.

Tamborine Albert's had a number of differences from MacPherson and Main Range Lyrebirds. One striking difference was in the construction of the nests. Main Range Lyrebirds build a beautifully neat domed structure but Tamborine Albert's built an ugly almost rudimentary domed nest, more or less thrown together. Tamborine birds were a cliff nester - I found them only on cliffs though I believe there is an early record or two from the base of trees. However, on the Main Range, they nested mostly at the base of a tree on a steep slope. An occasional bird nested on a cliff and I did see an old nest in a tree fern at one stage. There were other small differences but I cannot remember what they were now. We examined skins in the Qld Museum at the time and Tamborine birds were darker on the underparts amongst a few other subtle differences. I always noticed quite a difference in voice too - tone of the Tamborine birds was never as melodius as those on the main range where their voices seemed to be much more "pure". Syd would know much more about voice than me but it was always a pleasure to get to the Main Range and the MacPhersons to hear the sweeter voices.

My impression from following them for those years was that the Tamborine Albert's were an ancient population - they would have been isolated from the main population on the MacPhersons and the Main Range for many thousands of years from the lay of the country. We always thought the differences were enough to warrant a subspecific ranking. It could be interesting to know what present day DNA reveals - if anything.

So transferring birds from the Main Range for the sake of genetic diversity while it sounds great would not be the best way to go if this unique population was to be preserved in its own right. But as Syd intimates, trying to preserve the population would be one huge task.

The purpose of the study was to eventually publish a paper on the Tamborine population or Lyrebirds but through the pressures of establishing and running a business and rearing a family amongst other things, sadly it never eventuated.

Lloyd Nielsen
Mt Molloy, Nth Qld


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