The Locals' Guide - Lord Howe Island


In the canopy

Posted by Pinetrees Lodge – Monday, March 05, 2018

Contributed by Denis Corcoran: A Woodhen will let you know when you’re too close. A cacophony of throat guzzling vocal cords instinctively lets you know that a back up troop is on the way. The air rendering shrills are a call to arms, a unique dissonance which frequently pierces the Lord Howe Island airwaves. For when their siren screeches, you can’t ignore these eccentric hens, you’re now in their wooded hood.

Lord Howe Island is nothing but a cluster of Woodhen hoods. Sovereign to these soils, overtly territorial and passively aggressive, they will indiscriminately activate their squawky-like naturalist alarm if you’ve somehow managed to invade their personal space. Despite the fact that they may have been the ones creeping up on you, with their beaks poised for an excavator like pick up of anything that resembles a crunchy snack. Or the fact they that have decided to put on a display of proud promiscuous behaviour right in front of you. They forever seem like they’re caught in a weird combined state of utopian elation and paranoia. It’s fair to say they can be diagnosed as terribly moody birds.

Occasionally nothing will phase them and they’ll plod straight past you like you’re not even there. Same time, same place, the very next day and it’s like the words got around their pack that you’ve insulted their mother. Their little beady orange eyes fire up and their heads aggressively tilt on a slight angle with the ‘what did you just say’ unfolding body language. This act of bravado is usually followed by a tyrannical chorus of shrieks, enough to make any self respecting human shirk away, reluctant to draw any more attention to the unfolding chaotic scenes at their feet.

The Woodhen, much like many of the land-based birds, thrive in the lush and fecund vegetation of Lord Howe Island. In amongst the tangle of the forest floor, where Pandanus trees push past their palmy peers, a fracas of ferns fight fiercely for undergrowth real estate. It is here where the Woodhen’s forage for their juveniles next snack and their distant cousin, the Rail, dart about like miniature cartoon versions of Road Runner.

The bold breasted and sharply dressed, green winged Emerald dove is also present, plodding about the thicket until it gets spooked and volleys off at a head high swoop. The benign green composition of the Lord Howe undergrowth is littered with birds of all shapes and sizes. Boisterous black birds sing proudly as they toss twigs aside with their wanton beaks strokes. The occasional lonely duck waddles through. But it’s not until you tune in and get your sixth bird sense on, that you realise it’s not all popcorn and movies down here in the undergrowth.

If you listen closely, a Black bird’s musical melody will splinter into a shrill, revealing a warning siren in its own species dialect. Up above flashes of black breach the skyline, the serenity broken with the sharp shrill of the endemic Lord Howe Island Currawong, sending shivers down the spines of the island’s inferior avifauna. These villainous birds kill for the thrill. Their crooked beaks are often seen tattooed with the dried blood and feathered specks of their most recent victims innards. Their big beady eyes bold enough to make a human several times their size, think twice about their next move.

It’s up here, a couple of stratospheres higher in this quaint and seemingly calm forest ecosystem, where evil dances from branch to branch. The outstretched lanky arms of the big burly Banyan trees, provide the perfect penthouse perch for these larger birds of prey. Commanding the canopy, their presence is felt before it’s heard. An instinctive reminder that for all these land based birds, despite a lack of mainland predators, life is still a 24-hour survival game. This roofless aviary of Lord Howe is a tactical gambit when evolution omitted some useful wings.


The Locals’ Guide to Lord Howe Island is written by Denis Corcoran, Pia Funch, Luke Hanson, Geordie Tennant and Dani Rourke. We regularly visit the island’s iconic locations (and our secret spots) in different conditions, seasons and times of day (by foot, bike, kayak, boat and snorkel), and hope to share our experiences with you. If you need some travel inspiration, details on locations and the best activities, or just a brief online escape from your daily routine, then read our posts about life on Lord Howe Island.