Jenolan Caves

Birdwatching at Jenolan - How Tweet it is!

October 19, 2020

Bird postcards from 1905

Proclamation making Jenolan Caves a nature reserve

Visitors to Jenolan are always surprised by the wildlife. On the roads into Jenolan, drivers need to watch out for Eastern Gray Kangaroos, Swamp Wallabies, Red-Necked Wallabies and Bare-Nosed Wombats.  In the main cave precinct, around the hotel, you may see Eastern Water Dragons in the warmer months, and Pied Currawongs, Magpies, and bright Crimson Rosellas all year round. On the bushwalks, visitors often see Platypus, Cunningham’s Skinks, Brush-Tailed Rock Wallabies, Echidnas and Lyrebirds in the wild.  If you don’t actually see a lyrebird, you will almost certainly hear one, loudly performing its mimicked repertoire, from behind a tree or rock.  There are many other smaller birds, but you must look more carefully to spot them.

Marie Antionette began the feathered hat fashionThe reason there is so much native wildlife is because Jenolan has been a wildlife sanctuary for 100 years this month. In previous articles, we have talked about the triumphs and struggles of our Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies.  But this article is about our many native birds.

The fashion of wearing bird feathers in women’s hats began in the court of Louis XVI of France, when Marie Antoinette appeared in a headdress with feather plumes. The trend spread in Europe and into the United States.  By 1850, killing birds for the hat-making trade was big business, involving the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds all over the world, especially in breeding season, when their most elegant plumage was displayed. [i]

Towards the end of the 19th century, the fashion for feathers in hats, fans, boas and other accessories was at its peak. Women’s hats were decorated with wings and breasts. The entire bird was often used, sometimes mounted on wires and springs that allowed the head and wings to move about in a lifelike manner. [ii]

In Australia, the popularity of lyrebird feathers led to mass slaughter, as hundreds of lyrebirds were killed for hats and patriotic home decorations. In 1910, two dealers in Sydney sold 1,298 tails, and 3,000 tails were known to be exported in three years. The wholesale killing of birds across the world was on such a massive scale that concerns arose about the future of many species. [iii]

Hunting was encouraged at Jenolan. To attract more overnight guests, ads were placed in newspapers enticing hunters to Jenolan, where they could enjoy shooting literally any bird or animal that they encountered, and lyrebirds were an easy target. 

In Feb 1888, a Sydney Morning Herald article said of Jenolan, “Young fellows often bring their guns and try their inexperienced hands at lyre-bird, wallaby and platypus shooting, and find good appetites at any rate.”

The spectacular caves became officially protected in 1866.  But the wildlife was not protected until the Bird and Animal Protection Act 1918.  Under the Act, the most that a hunter could be fined was £20 [iv]. But that was a lot of money in Australia in 1919, when a male factory worker earned an average £158 per year, (and a female factory worker earned an average £70 per year). [v]

On October 20, it will be exactly 100 years since Jenolan was declared a wildlife sanctuary.  Shortly after the proclamation, the wildlife at Jenolan began to thrive and multiply.

In 1929, a Grafton Daily Examiner article, said “This taming of the wild has been portion of the life’s work of James Carvosso Wiburd, the snowy-haired, benevolent and beloved superintendent of the caves.  He is a second St. Francis of Assisi, and his tall, hatless figure is known to every bird and animal in the 36 square miles sanctuary which surrounds Jenolan, and which he persuaded the Government to declare a home for the birds, animals, reptiles and flowers he loves and protects.” [vi]

Wiburd wrote much about Jenolan for publicity. He wrote mainly about the caves, but he always remembered to describe the animals and birds that patient and quiet visitors may spot, if they wander along the bush trails.

By 1936, keen birdwatchers knew to come to Jenolan for a satisfying day of ‘twitching’.  One birdwatcher wrote to The Pioneer in July 1936, and said “he had made more than one hundred trips to Jenolan Caves…where there are more birds than any other place he knows.” [vii]

On a weekend in November 2018, Jenolan hosted a bioblitz. (A BioBlitz is an event in which people work together to find and identify as many species as possible, in a short time, in a single area.) Volunteers recorded spotting 14 different species of mammals (including 2 monotremes and 11 marsupials), 5 types of reptiles, 5 types of frogs, numerous species of insects, and an amazing 45 different species of birds. 

If you visit Jenolan the best place to spot birds, especially lyrebirds, is along the McKeown’s Valley Track. There, you may also spot wallabies, including our rare Brush-Tailed Rock Wallabies, maybe Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Echidnas and Cunningham’s Skinks.

Now that we’ve told you about the shameful practice of killing and stuffing birds, we must confess a guilty secret.  Wander into our guest lounge in Caves House hotel (ground floor).  There you will see a large glass case containing 36 stuffed birds.  The collection was put together many years ago, by Mr J. R. Kinghorn, of the Australian Museum. Kinghorn was the museum’s zoologist in charge of reptiles, amphibians, and birds, from 1918 to 1940. During his career, he made many visits to Jenolan to study the wildlife, especially the birds [viii]. He was known as "Curator" at Jenolan for many years. We think that the bird collection may have been donated to Jenolan, sometime in the 1970s.  However, if you have more information about when it was donated, or why, please contact us.

Finally, here is a lovely selection of recent bird photos taken at Jenolan by cave guide, Dr Anne Musser.

Silvereye Superb Fairy Wren
Brown Thornbill Fan-tailed Cuckoo
Kookaburra male Golden Whistler


Th banner photo of the postcard birds, was supplied by the Jenolan Caves Historical and Preservation Society. - the entire Bird & Animals Preservation Act– list of birds and wildlife written by Wiburd

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4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911

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