Step into a quiet corner in Sydney’s Angel Place and you’ll find one of the city’s best kept secrets — nearly two hundred empty birdcages suspended mid-air. Listen closely and you can hear the sounds of birds that have long moved to other forests. This whimsical floating installation makes for one of Sydney’s most powerful artworks and picture-perfect spots. As you stand underneath these birdcages, you can hear the sounds of fifty birds that once inhabited our city before being forced out due to European settlement. Interestingly, as the day turns into night, the sounds of the birds transform from daytime birds to nocturnal ones.
Titled Forgotten Songs, the artwork is the brainchild of artist Michael Thomas Hill. Although initially commissioned as a temporary installation as part of Sydney’s 2009 temporary laneway art program, the work gained fast popularity among Sydneysiders who requested it become a permanent fixture. The demand for it was so high, that 180 new cages were re-installed with 10 speakers that play the songs of these 50 birds till date.
According to the City Art Sydney website, during the day you can hear the calls of the Eastern Whipbird, Rockwarbler, Regent Honeyeater, Grey Shrike-thrush, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Spotted Pardalote, Brown Gerygone and Jacky Winter among many others.
At night, you can hear the Australian Owlet-nightjar, Powerful Owl, Southern Boobook, Barn Owl, Tawny Frogmouth and White-throated Nightjar.
Although a striking sight and a popular spot for Instagrammers and influencers, it’s important to remember that the installation stands as a strong statement against urbanisation and the consequent loss of habitat. Many of these extinct or endangered birds would once sing in the city center although a few can still be heard in the outskirts.
Forgotten Songs is a permanent art installation featuring 180 birdcages and playing a soundscape of 50 birds.