Lyre birds are native to Australia and inhabit eucalyptus forests, where they forage for food among the leaf litter on the forest floor. Along with the spectacular lyre-shaped tail feathers for which they are named, males have one other outstanding feature, although it is not apparent to the eye: they are astonishingly accurate mimics.

In the mating season, male lyre birds entice females by composing a song comprised of many of the sounds heard in the surrounding forest, which will include the songs of other birds, sounds made by other animals, the sounds of rain, thunder, wind, insects, and everything else frequently heard in that part of the forest.

I learned this fact from a television documentary which showed a male in the process of singing his mating song. It was amazing to hear the sound of rain in the trees, then a snatch of birdsong, then the crack of a dry branch, all perfectly reproduced by this shy little brown bird, hidden away in a damp forest somewhere.

And then it produced some new sounds. There was the unmistakable whirr of a chainsaw, the motor of a tractor, the crash of a falling tree. The narrator confirmed this; due to the increase of logging in the area, the males had started to incorporate the sounds made by the loggers into their songs. And the lyre bird had one more new trick: it perfectly imitated the shutter-click and wind-on motor of the still cameras used by the documentary makers.

This struck me as incredibly sad and poignant. Here was this amazing oddity of nature, singing its strange and beautiful song, and right there in the song were the sounds of the inexorable destruction of its environment, along with the sounds of the whole thing being recorded for my personal viewing pleasure. And for posterity.