Lyrebirds learning artificial sounds

To: <>
Subject: Lyrebirds learning artificial sounds
From: "Richard & Roz" <>
Date: Thu, 11 Feb 2010 10:12:37 +1100
Hi everyone

I had a lively email discussion with the producer of 'Life of Birds' about the 
lyrebirds mimicing mechanical sounds in the programme. He did admit that the 
birds they used were raised in captivity, and I have since learnt more about 
the 'camera shutter' bird at Healesville and the 'chainsaw' bird at Adelaide 
Zoo. He did say, however, that 'everyone knows that lyrebirds mimic things like 
chainsaws' - and I suspect that this was David Attenborough's belief - probably 
passed to him by people he met in Oz when he came over to help make the 
programme. I have yet to hear a recording of a wild lyrebird mimicing a 
mechanical sound, but the 'Life of Birds' gave the definite impression that 
David Attenborough believed they did. It has now become a matter of deep faith 
amongst people who have seen the programme (and others from earlier times as 
well), which is impossible to shake. Such a belief appears all over the place - 
from 'official' national parks signs and information - even to the website of 
the BA Atlas. Please, please can someone play me a recording of a wild lyrebird 
mimicing a mechanical sound - not just a belief that someone had definitely 
heard such a recording in the past!

The story of the 'flute-playing' lyrebird of Dorrigo is a different kettle of 
bananas. I have heard all the relevant recordings, and the bird in question is 
very convincing - especially when played alongside the popular tune that it was 
supposedly mimicing. It is possible that some of the lyrebirds in the immediate 
vicinity picked up elements of this mimicry for a while. There is a flute-like 
call in the birds' own repertoire which can be heard in wild birds from Dorrigo 
to Werrikimbe, and it would not take much modification of this to be quite 
close to the tune in question. However, my work on the mimicry of Tasmanian 
lyrebirds, which were taken to the forests of southern Tassie from Victoria a 
bit over 60 years ago, has shown that mimiced calls fade quickly from the 
repertoire of lyrebirds in the absence of reinforcement from the original model 
(although there was evidence, however, of some residual 'whipbird' in the birds 
I listened to recently in Tasmania).

The 'flute-like' call is, however, quite an extraordinary one, and I have set 
aside all of June this year to follow it through it's entire range - which is 
fortunately not far from where I live - and to make a collection of sound 
recordings. Maybe I will be convinced that the Superb Lyrebird so loves the 
sound of the flute that it has incorporated it into its own 'permanent' 
repertoire. We shall see.

Richard (the skeptic)

Richard Jordan
PO Box 449
NSW 2454

tel (02) 6655 9456
mob 042 838 5677

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