You may have noticed the many references to the Lyrebird around the house. We have named the house Balangara after we spent our first years here enthralled by the sounds of lyrebirds that we frequently have near the house or on the block They can be heard all through the valley and are a truly amazing bird.
The word Balangara means lyrebird in an aboriginal dialect as we discovered in the work of ornithologist John Gould
Indigenous names collected by Gould
‘I am particularly anxious that you should obtain on the east coast and in New South Wales[,] even about Sydney[,] as many of the aboriginal names of Mammals and Birds as you can[,] particularly the origin of the word Kangaroo[,]’
Gould to his collector, Gilbert, in 1844.
Gould was unusual in that he actively sought out the Indigenous names of the specimens he collected. He realised the importance of developing relationships with the Aboriginal people as they were a key part of the success of his field work. Knowing the Aboriginal names meant Gould could specify what he wanted collected.
Indigenous Bird Names of the Hunter Region of New South Wales
Aboriginal name – Beleck-Beleck and Balangara
Gould’s common name – Lyre-bird
Common name – Superb Lyrebird
Gould’s scientific name – Menura superba
Scientific name – Menura novaehollandiae
Ref Australian Museum
David Attenborough has filmed Lyrebirds for his BBC shows.
Balangara Films– no connection to us but great name choice guys- has produced a movie about the Lyrebirds of NSW and of the Dandenongs. Here is the trailer
Here are some recent newspaper articles about the lyrebird.
Not just a pretty tail: The lyrebird is a superb firefighter
Rural affairs reporter for The Age
Superb lyrebirds reduced forest litter by 1.66 tonnes per hectare over a nine-month period. Photo: Alex Maisey
Victoria’s forests have an unlikely fire warden: the superb lyrebird.
Lyrebirds are reducing the chance of fires occurring in the areas where they forage … and unburnt patches within large wildfires are really important sites for animals to survive.
New research has revealed the iconic songbird reduces the risk of bushfire by spreading dry leaf litter and digging safe havens that help other species survive fires.
The lyrebird’s foraging reduces forest fuel loads, which in turn can reduce the risk of life-threatening fires, researchers from La Trobe University have found.
With feet like garden rakes, and an appetite for worms and bugs that live in the soil, lyrebirds sift the forest floor, burying the leaf and other forest ltter, speeding up leaf decomposition, and reducing the amount of fuel for bushfires.
Their foraging was also found to inhibit the growth of ferns, grasses and other plants which would otherwise contribute more potential bushfire fuels.
The research, an honours project for student Daniel Nugent, quantifies the lyrebird’s role in forest litter reduction.
Conducted in burnt and unburnt sites in the footprint of Black Saturday’s two most devastating blazes, it showed that lyrebirds reduced forest litter by a massive 1.66 tonnes per hectare over a nine-month period.
Researchers produced these measurements by comparing the amount of litter in unfenced plots of the forest, with neighbouring plots that had been fenced off.
“Lyrebird foraging areas may therefore suppress the horizontal and vertical spread of fire, limiting the extent and severity of fire events. Our modelling suggests that the reduction in litter fuel loads brought about by lyrebird foraging has the potential to result in markedly subdued fire behaviour relative to that predicted in the absence of lyrebirds,” the report said.
“The loss of lyrebirds from forests adjacent and within urban areas could result in higher fuel loads and an increased likelihood of wildfires threatening human life,” said the report, published in the CSIRO’s journal Wildlife Research.
Steve Leonard, research fellow in the Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution at La Trobe University, said lyrebirds performed their protective role as they searched for food.
“They forage like chickens, they’ve got big feet with really long toes so they’ve basically got rakes for feet. They rake through the litter looking for worms and little bugs, stuff to eat. They’re digging through that humus and litter layer looking for little invertebrates and whatever they can find,” he said.
“Through that process they reduce the litter fuel load by, on average, 25 per cent, or about 1.6 tonnes per hectare. And we put those figures into a fire behaviour model and found that that level of fuel reduction is enough [that] in low fire-danger weather conditions it excludes fire, fire’s not possible under low to moderate conditions. But even in more extreme conditions the fire behaviour will be more moderate, [with] lower rates of spread, lower flame height, so a less intense fire,” he said.
“Our conclusion is that lyrebirds are reducing the chance of fires occurring in the areas where they forage and the ecological significance of that is that unburnt patches within large wildfires are really important sites for animals to survive post-fire,” Dr Leonard said.
Alex Maisey, convener of the Sherbrooke Lyrebird Survey Group, welcomed the research.
“It really shows that it’s an important species to maintain through predator control of the fox, even deer control, for maintaining the habitat in those key areas where the lyrebirds breed,” he said.
Numbers don’t lie
- The Age Date
Nature’s beloved mimic is making a comeback in the Dandenongs.
This year’s survey of the lyrebird population of Sherbrooke Forest, in the Dandenong Ranges, is cause for quiet joy for as the ”Lyrebird Lady” of Monbulk, Jan Incoll reports, ”numbers seem to be creeping up”. ”We think there is now a stable population of 160 in the forest,” she says.
The annual survey by the Sherbrooke Lyrebird Study Group has been monitoring the area’s superb lyrebirds for 54 years. Since a critical low of about 60 birds in 1985 and the consequent introduction of a cat curfew and rigorous fox baiting, the main threat to a flamboyantly feathered bird that David Attenborough credits with ”the most elaborate and beautiful birdsong in the world” is now death by road trauma. ”And there’s not much we can do about that,” Mrs Incoll says.
Since the 2009 bushfires devastated other tracts of the species’ preferred mountain ash habitat in Marysville and Kinglake, the Dandenong Ranges has become even more important to the survival of the exceptional Menura novaehollandiae at the southern end of its east-coast range.
The battle against incursions by logging, which began in the 1860s, and the pressures of settlement now at semi-urban levels, have been going a long time.
They have also spawned stories of relationships between humans and lyrebirds that, at first, challenge credulity. But they’re true. The Hermit of Kallista is the subject of one, and Mrs Edith Wilkinson, a widow living a hermit-like existence in Mount Dandenong until she was befriended by a male lyrebird, ”James”, is the other.
The Hermit was Tom Tregellas, who in 1918 took up part-time residence in a hollow log in Kallista to study at close range a species he believed was becoming endangered even then. He was one of the first to photograph a male displaying and the first to broadcast live the complex song of a bird said to be capable of mimicking any sound.
In a log that could sleep four and that he inhabited for 13 years, Tregellas was visited by many naturalists and, on one occasion, by the Governor of Victoria.
The widow, who from 1930 was wooed by an apparently fearless male lyrebird, enjoyed daily 40-minute song and dance performances from James for many years.
She taught him to say ”Hello boy” and James treated her to his ever-changing, synthesised song cycles with diverse bird noises including a flock of parrots whistling in flight, the complex ”cachinnations” of mobs of laughing kookaburras, as well as the sounds of car horns, rock crushing industry and the voices of the men working the quarry.
James built seven mounds in her garden and Mrs Wilkinson built him a special platform on her verandah that he came to prefer. Charming as the story, captured in the 1933 book The Lore of the Lyrebird, is, the most touching note concerns the day Mrs Wilkinson was too sick to get out of bed. James found her bedroom window, built a mound beneath it and performed like a lovelorn Romeo.
”The lovely miracle,” wrote author Ambrose Pratt, ”cured Mrs Wilkinson more effectively than could all the physicians in the capital.”
Sherbrooke Forest, Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras. Melway 75 E3.
Lyrebird James’ cabaret hits the road again, for a new audience
WITH the spread of suburbia in the 1930s, it was feared that lyrebirds in the Dandenongs were in danger of extinction.
But the antics of an all-singing and dancing creature called James sparked a new public appreciation of the graceful indigenous birds.
A new children’s book, Lyrebird! A True Story, tells the forgotten yarn of how James performed daily on the verandah of Ferny Creek widow Edith Wilkinson.
In 1932, Ambrose Pratt, a journalist at The Age, visited Mrs Wilkinson’s flower farm and described a performance ”of almost unbelievable beauty”.
At first, James repeated back Mrs Wilkinson’s greeting of ”hullo, boy”, then jumped on a platform she had built, Pratt wrote. The bird lifted his 12 tail feathers over his head, then moved his body in time to his trills. He mimicked kookaburra laughs, cats’ miaows, a stone crusher and two men talking.
Pratt wrote that when Mrs Wilkinson was ill, James ”made a mound outside her bedroom window, and there he sang to her daily until she got well”.
His article made the pair celebrities. Tourists flocked to the house, which no longer stands but is believed to have been in Belgrave-Ferny Creek Road.
Five years ago, Melbourne storyteller Jackie Kerin read about James in Pratt’s 1933 book The Lore of the Lyrebird and was moved to teach a new generation about James.
”I tell stories to children, a lot of folk and fairytales, particularly from Europe,” Kerin said. ”And I’m always looking for what I call tellable Australian tales – how Ned Kelly rescued a boy from drowning, and about a gold nugget found in 1857 called the Blanche Barkly.”
She started telling the lyrebird yarn at Melbourne schools and festivals, from Port Fairy to Woodford in Queensland.
Audiences loved it and wanted to know, ”did this really happen?” and ”tell us more” and so she has written the book Lyrebird! A True Story, released through Museum Victoria’s publishing arm and illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe.
There is a glossary of native birds at the end. She hopes the book will create a curiosity in children about exploring nature; too many young people are removed from the environment, she says.
”In some ways I think I’m continuing the work of Ambrose in alerting people to these beautiful birds and to the fact that if you care for wildlife, you have to care for their environment.”
She hopes to learn more about Edith. ”I can’t see how you could possibly be lonely if you are connected to nature as she was. I have never seen anyone who has seen a live lyrebird performance that hasn’t had their breath taken away.”
Video of James dancing can be found at here.