On the second day of Christmas, my true love (the creative spirit) sent to me: two superb lyrebirds mimicking
and a Kookaburra up a Gum Tree
For a while, I thought my mind was gone. I found that I couldn’t completely lose myself in a book, a movie, or a song. I was constantly pausing to reflect upon the sentences, images, and lyrics that jump out at me–going off on mental tangents. The awful truth is that I am a kleptomaniac. I snatch fragments and then repurpose them. I have an almost neurotic obsession with capturing things that inspire me in some way. And then there’s the issue of a life filled with loose pages torn from magazines and notes written on the back of the free postcards I have lifted.
It does reassure me to know that many birds behave like me. They grab things and store them in their bowers. Then there are the birds who incorporate mimicry into their vocal repertoires. One species is simply extraordinary in its ability to accurately imitate even the most complex of sounds. This bird is the Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) of south-eastern Australia.
Famous for it’s rich and beautiful song, this pheasant-sized songbird learns to mimic the sounds of other birds in a way like no other. From the cackling laughter of a Kookaburra to the strident ‘whipcrack’ of the Eastern Whipbird, Lyrebirds are so accurate that even the original is sometimes fooled (Dalziell, 2012). Up to 80% of the Superb Lyrebird’s song consists of mimicry, and it’s not unusual for an individual male lyrebird to have mastered the calls of 20-25 species of bird. Source Superb Lyrebird Greatest Mimic
There is no clear reason why the lyrebird mimics! Like any good musician, the lyrebird uses these talents mainly for courtship, and during the peak of the breeding season, from June to August, males can be heard singing for up to four hours a day, incorporating the calls of other birds into their own “original” songs. Most of their mimicry is of other avian species: calls, songs, wing beats, and beak claps, which they deliver in quick succession.
Today the lyrebird is reminding that it can be fun to mimic and that it is okay to weave the ideas of others into our own work. The 12 Days of Christmas, which I am using for this project, is an old carol that dates back to 1558. Over the centuries it has been reworked by hordes of marketers and artists.
This teen is certainly having fun mimicking! He has perfected the art of mimicking celebrities on Instagram. Great copywriters know how to take on someone else’s voice entirely. They have a distinct voice, too, but they can manipulate it and disguise it to achieve the desired effect.
The lyrebird is reminding us that you don’t need to be a genius to be an artist, you just need to be yourself. Austin Kleon, is a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for the taking. A manifesto for the digital age, Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side.
Read this essay to learn more about what the gifts the two superb lyrebirds have come to grant us.
♣ Listen to the spirit. Try to pay attention to what stands out to you. It may be a crow cawing to you. If the crow caws, caw back.
♣ Find quiet places, become introverted so that you might quieten your external surroundings and hear what is beneath all of that.
♣ Make a collage of the people upon whose shoulders you stand, who have impacted on the way you work.
♣ Who do you think is worth mimicking? Make a list! Make sure to acknowledge and give thanks to the source that has fed you and provided inspiration.
♣ Ben Miran says that every bird has a story! What story do you have to tell?