The female lyrebird has her own repertoire of songs

Vicky Austin and baby bird

Vicky Austin and baby bird

Lawson PhD student Vicky Austin is appealing to bird lovers of the Mountains for help.

Ms Austin is studying the calls of female superb lyrebirds and needs help in identifying which birds they mimic. 

Baby superb lyrebird

Baby superb lyrebird

Ms Austin, who has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship and will attend Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US later this year, said very little was known about the female song repertoire and why it was performed.

It has long been known that male lyrebirds are great mimics, parroting anything from other bird species to chainsaws, car alarms and camera shutters to attract a mate.

But the revelation that females are also great songstresses has led Ms Austin to try to find out why.

For months, she has been patrolling sites from Glenbrook to Katoomba to record the female lyrebirds.

“People see me with all my gear and ask questions. They often tell me about their own experiences,” she said.

Her “gear” might include directional microphones, cameras and often a camouflage outfit, so she doesn’t alert the birds to her presence.

Ms Austin said so many people had helped her, from the staff at Scenic World, a popular lyrebird habitat, to local bird guider Carol Proberts and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which has given her access to remote locations.

She said the birds seem to call most during breeding season and it is possible that they mimic predators to scare away potential threats to their babies. 

For example, if there is a currawong in the area of the bird’s nest, mum might mimic a goshawk, which eats currawongs, Ms Austin said.

But there are many calls she doesn’t know, which is where she hopes Mountains birders might help out.

To hear the calls or read more about Ms Austin’s research, see https://www.animalecologylab.org/victoria-austin.html or @avianbehaviour on Twitter.