Mimicry by Lyrebird

To: <>
Subject: Mimicry by Lyrebird
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2007 23:30:10 +1000
"Bob Dawson"   Tue, 10 Apr 2007, wrote:
> One other story I have heard but have no conirmation of is Lyrebirds in the
> Blue mountains still doing steam trains in an area where there have been no
> steam trains for 50 years or more. This would be an example if true of birds
> in the wild doing a mechanical sound and also passing it from generation to
> generation.

Superb Lyrebirds appear to do a pretty good "imitation" of a puffing steam
loco.   Alas, it is only co-incidence: one of their own vocalisations just
happens to sound that way.

In "The Vocal Displays of the Lyrebirds (Menuridae)", Robinson & Curtis,
"Emu" vol 96 pp 258-275, Norman is describing Superb Lyrebird vocalisations:

In all places where recordings of the vocal display were obtained, six
signals specific to Superb Lyrebirds were identified within a continuous
stream of mimicry.  Three of these signals may be described as songs and the
remainder as calls in terms of the definition adopted by Baylis (1982).
Much of the vocal display was accompanied by visual display.  These six
signals were Territorial Song, two Plik Songs, Mating Clicks and two alarm
calls; they are described as follows:

Territorial Songs ...

Mating clicks.       Following those recognition signals visual display
increased in intensity and was accompanied by very soft mimicry followed by
a series of clicking sounds that preceded copulation.  Following copulation
two further calls may be given as an epilogue to the display.  They consist
of "ruff ruff ruff" repeated several times, followed by a loud "Baaaaarr".
They do not occur during the display and their meaning is unclear.

[The Baylis reference is to "Avian vocal mimicry: its function and
evolution" at p 51 in Vol. 2 of  "Acoustic Communication in Birds", Academic
press, New York)

The "ruff ruff ruff" call can be remarkably like the puffing of a steam
loco.   But Norman's (CSIRO) major study on lyrebirds was done in
Tidbinbilla N P in the ACT.  There never have been steam locos that they
could hear.    

My research has been mainly with Albert's, but I was once only about 5
metres from a Superb 'doing' the ruff ruff call.  I could see just the tips
of his tail feathers over a fortuitous bolder that concealed me from his
(their?) sight.  This was at Mt Ainsley on the western side of the Blue
Mountains.  I had been told that there was once an oil shale mine at Mt
Airly, serviced by a tram-way, and I seriously wondered if there had been
steam locos and this was a culturally transmitted imitation of a puffing
loco.  Norman explained the situation when I reported my experience to him.

Remarkable birds, are they not?




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