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Byron Shire
July 23, 2024

Sex, science and songbirds

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This rare sighting of a beautiful Albert’s Lyrebird was caught on a monitoring camera at Mount Nullum in September 2021. Photo supplied.

It was standing room only at the Eltham Hotel last Thursday for a bawdy night out about Australian songbirds. 

The sell-out crowd for Science in the Pub were wowed by award-winning author, Tim Low, and the warm-up act, local regeneration legend, Mark Dunphy. 

Dunphy laid out the stark fact of colonisation clearing rainforests, but also celebrated the recent plantings of millions of trees in the region to help regenerate forests, bringing back the birds who sing in them. 

He also lewdly described a ‘bird orgy’ in his own regenerated backyard, as birds were constantly courting, mating, and nesting. 

‘It’s like a conga-line of illicit sex’, said Dunphy, who is vice-president of the Big Scrub Rainforest Conservancy. ‘Sometimes, it’s a bit obscene, and I have to turn my eyes.’ 

A rare Albert’s Lyrebird sighting. Photo Fiona Backhouse.

Biologist and author, Tim Low, confirmed that Australian birds were indeed, ‘champions of promiscuity’, citing evidence that most magpies have illicit fathers, and female fairy-wrens have ‘lots of extra-marital sex, often in the ‘pre-dawn light’. 

On a more serious note, Low talked about the scientific evidence from DNA studies and fossils, revealing Australian songbirds have the greatest genetic diversity, and are the oldest on the planet. 

Bird of the night went to the Lyrebird, identified in fossils in Australia dating back 20 million years, still heard in local forests, and regarded as the ‘world’s best songbird’. 

Low is the author of many books, including the prize-winning best-seller, Where Song Began, about the global significance and impact of Australia’s extraordinary birdlife. 

And he had some good news for those of us lucky enough to live in or visit this region, describing the forests of northern NSW and south-east Qld as the ‘surviving epicentre of where these birds are best represented’.

Alberts lyrebird. Photo Tony – www.bigscrubrainforest.org-

The event was organised by Richmond Landcare and Lismore Council, with support from Big Scrub Rainforest Conservancy. 

Tim Low told The Echo that the role of Landcare groups, and their work in helping regenerate forests and other ecosystems, was ‘really important’.

Tree planting day

For anyone keen to plant some trees and help provide homes for those lascivious songbirds, Brunswick Valley Landcare is holding their annual Mother’s Day community tree-planting day, this Sunday May 14, between 9 and 12, at 62 Yankee Creek Road Mullumbimby.   

♦ Ray Moynihan is a journalist and academic who organised the 2023 Regeneration festival, school workshop and plantings. 


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1 COMMENT

  1. Mark Dunphy, why is sex between birds ‘illicit’, or ‘obscene’? What are you revealing?
    Tim Low, some may well be ‘champions of promiscuity’, and female fairy-wrens may have ‘lots of extra-marital sex … ‘ Is that not more than a trifle anthropomorphic [ a trifle unscientific even ]?

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