As I wander though the temperate rainforest of Victoria, I am, as always, surrounded by the sound of bird calls emanating through the forest. There are many birds with beautiful and distinct calls, but in my opinion, there is one that takes it all one step further.
I am on the hunt for one of Australia’s most famous impersonators.
Kinglake National Park, just a short hour’s drive north of Melbourne, is home to the Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae). The star of the 10-cent coin, this bird is one of Australia’s most intriguing species. This ground-dwelling, brown Passerine may appear drab at first glance, but a closer look will reveal a somewhat unique existence.
The Mountain Ash forest of Kinglake National Park is an ideal place to start looking for lyrebirds. First, I keep a look out for the eye-catching tail plumage. A lyrebird’s feathers rise up to form a display of brown, grey and gold – this the first tool the male uses to attract a mate.
But the tail is not the only thing I’m searching for, and neither is it the only way the male impresses the ladies. The lyrebird doesn't reveal its true talents until it opens its mouth. This is where the male shows what he’s really made off – he’s got a killer singing repertoire.
Not only does the male’s song consist of elements of his own, but also mimicked sounds and noises he hears in his forest home. The impersonations allow me to track down the male lyrebird in the dense undergrowth.
Sure enough, as I walk along the track to Masons Falls, I hear the call of a lyrebird. After a bit of sneaking and searching, I find him just off the path. He is positioned on his “display platform” (a mound of bare soil amongst the undergrowth), belting his little heart out, trying to lure in the females.
Most commonly, this includes the calls of other birds, such as the kookaburra. Yet the lyrebird has even been known to mimic a camera shutter, car alarms and chainsaws (although these human-related noises may be limited to the captive population, as this has not actually been observed in the wild).
There is still uncertainty surrounding the question of why lyrebirds and other species use mimicry, but perhaps the required complexity helps females to spot high quality mates. Recent research has also suggested that lyrebirds match their dance movements to specific songs, introducing another layer to their complex routine.
If you’re looking for the same experience, I suggest heading up there at the peak of the breeding season in winter, when the males are calling the most intently (although they have been known to sing all year!).
Hopefully you’ll get lucky and witness one of the most complex and beautiful bird songs Victoria has to offer.