The Marvelous Mimicry of the Lyrebird
There are two species of the ground-dwelling Australian Lyrebird: the Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) and the Albert’s Lyrebird (Menura alberti). The Superb Lyrebird is the larger of the two species and is found in the wet forest areas of New South Wales and Victoria, as well as in Tasmania where is was introduced by man in the 19th century. The Albert’s Lyrebird is found exclusively in a small area of rainforest in Southern Queensland. Albert’s Lyrebird was named in honor of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert.
Australia’s Lyrebirds are wary creatures which dodge and run through forest underbrush in an attempt not to be seen. Although they do not fly as such, their wings assist them in running and jumping up onto rocks and into low branches where they roost at night.
The male lyrebird’s tail, when it is displayed, resembles a lyre (harp-like musical instrument) with the two outer large brown and white feathers forming the frame and the thinner inner feathers resembling the strings, resulting in the name of Lyrebird. Apart from the male’s unusual tail feathers, the lyrebird is a rather unremarkable looking bird, about the size of a chicken and brown in color. In mating season, however, this feathered suitor puts on a display that his prospective mate finds irresistible. In order to be seen clearly, he piles up a small heap of soil, which he stands on. Then he spreads his tail up and over his head in the distinctive lyre shape at the beginning of his courtship dance. As he is dancing about he sings his own song, as well as mimicking other birds and various surrounding noises.
This ability to mimic just about anything, from the call of any other bird to artificial sounds, is what really sets the lyrebird apart from the other birds in their area. It is not uncommon for people to be fooled into thinking that they are enjoying the singing of many species of birds, only to find that it is the lyrebird going through its very impressive repertoire. The lyrebird’s vocal chords (syrinx) are the most complex of all songbirds, facilitating its vast vocal range. Lyrebirds have been heard to mimic all the bird species in their surroundings, including flocks of birds. It has been reported to successfully mimic chain saws, car alarms, car engines, fire alarms, dogs barking, camera shutters, rifle shots, crying babies and songs played on various musical instruments. The male lyrebird is the more vocal of the sexes, although the female does have the same ability to mimic.
Clearly, this elusive bird is a marvel and should you be fortunate enough to hear one, you will surely remember it forever.