The truth about chainsaw-mimicking lyrebirds

The Australian lyrebird has amazing powers of imitation. In his Life of Birds series, David Attenborough demonstrated that these birds can even imitate man-made sounds such as chainsaws, car alarms, and the click of a camera shutter.

The clip leads viewers to believe that lyrebirds in the wild have begun to imitate man-made sounds. But this turns out not to be true. Attenborough didn't explain that the lyrebirds he showed were not typical examples of the species. Hollis Taylor, writing for, explains:
Attenborough peers at the bird (and the camera) from behind a tree, whispering to us about the bird mimicking "sounds that he hears from the forest". We see compelling footage of a bird imitating a camera's motor drive, a car alarm, and a chainsaw.

This Attenborough moment is highly popular — but hold on! He fails to mention that two of his three lyrebirds were captives, one from Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and the other from Adelaide Zoo. This latter individual, Chook, was famed for his hammers, drills, and saws, sounds he reputedly acquired when the Zoo's panda enclosure was built. Hand-raised from a chick, he was also known to do a car alarm, as well as a human voice intoning "hello, Chook!" He died in 2011, aged 32.

She goes on to say:
Do wild lyrebirds mimic machinery and the like? While I can imagine that in rare circumstances their vocalisations could reflect the human impact on their environment (and there are such anecdotes), there is no known recording of a lyrebird in the wild mimicking man-made mechanical sounds. Nevertheless, belief in such a phenomenon is now so well established on the internet that it even crops up on official sites.


Posted on Mon Feb 03, 2014


Even so, it's the bird's ability to even make these sounds that is fascinating, while captive or otherwise.
Posted by Tony  on  Wed Feb 05, 2014  at  09:16 AM
I live in Melbourne. I have seen these birl in the Dandenong rangers which is in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I saw it on the side of a very popular walking trail that commemorates WWII in the South Pacific. On a bad day these birds will encounter hundreds of people a day. It never shocked me they were in enough human contact to imitate us.
on a side note, I went to Healsville and the lyrebird is in a walk through enclosure and I could find the bugger, hahaha :D
Posted by Jessica  on  Mon Feb 10, 2014  at  01:38 AM
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