A Superb Survival

Kinglake National Park

by Jessica Kearney, Sophie Lewis and Mitchell Groenewal


photograph © Sophie Lewis 2017

photograph © Sophie Lewis 2017

I start my journey driving through the outskirts of Melbourne, putting behind me a city that is growing as fast as any metropolis on the planet.

I’m on my way to Kinglake, a town in the national park of the same name just an hour north of Melbourne. I am jolted from the familiar concrete jungle by the vast green out my window as I drive farther from the city.

We have just experienced our warmest winter on record and, notably for Kinglake, our ninth driest. With this in mind, I was acutely aware of the warnings for Victorian homeowners to start preparing immediately for the upcoming bushfire season. What struck me most was how this lush-seeming environment could be so deceptive; how it could become its own worst enemy—winter’s necessary livelihood, but summer’s devastating fuel.

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I am slowly winding my way up to Mason Falls: the beating heart of Kinglake’s juvenile forest. This area knows change well; over 350 million years ago it was part of a vast sea, and just eight years ago it was reduced to ash.


Mason Falls is in symbiosis with the forest, trickling over every facet of an intricate ecosystem. While the park may be dense, it’s easy to hear water tumbling down the 45 metre falls. Beneath the falls, the gush is thunderous, as it force-feeds the valley with rainwater.

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On the trail guiding towards Mason Falls, the forest appears in a winter slumber.

A call pierces the stillness.

To my surprise, the bard was closer than I could have expected. It is the Superb Lyrebird, whistling its way ahead and fossicking through the damp undergrowth.

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The native bird is in its element, crossing the dedicated Lyrebird Circuit. The short path enters a wet gully that was once Carmen’s Timber Mill, where the birds have been known to make a shy appearance. Although human disturbance has come to encroach on its habitat, the Superb Lyrebird is unfazed by our presence: eyes focused, clawing through the moist top-soil. 

I was still an unknowing audience, questioning why the ground-dwelling bird I had got so close to, had earned the title of ‘superb’. On the surface, the Lyrebird is unique for its distinctive appearance and mimicry, however, if you scratch beneath, you will find an extraordinary tale of survival.

Aside from the Kookaburra, the Superb Lyrebird is arguably—in ornithological circles at least—one of Australia’s most famous birds. There might even be one hiding in your wallet if you have a closer look at the ten-cent coin.

The Lyrebird has faced its fair share of perils throughout its 15 million years on Earth. Naturally, the dazzling tail feathers of the Superb Lyrebird have attracted unwelcome attention.

From the eighteenth century, the once undisturbed bird was hunted for fashion, mostly for ladies’ hats. With colonisation, the Lyrebird was also exposed to an uncharted threat of introduced species. To this day feral cats and foxes are known to prey on their nests. It would be no coincidence if the Superb Lyrebird had earned its title for its adaptability.

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When I heard the Lyrebird’s call near Mason Falls, I wondered if it was mimicking another bird. The song didn’t sound that different from a magpie’s. I knew that the Lyrebird was a renowned mimic, famous for its ability to emulate a variety of sounds—from other birds to the noise of a camera shutter. What I didn’t realise was that Lyrebirds don’t just mimic: they sing for survival.

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The male’s sounds are mainly related to courtship. As sophisticated as a human dancing a waltz, the male lyrebird coordinates a song and dance routine on dirt mounds to attract females to mate. While you may hear the male at other times, they sing and dance intensely for about six weeks over winter to attract fertile females.

The female has a unique ‘whistle song’ she uses during foraging; a combination of whistles, squawks and trills. She vocalises this tune to ward off other unwanted females from her territory and when defending her chicks.

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