By Dr. Becker
Lyrebirds are ground-dwelling Australian birds with an awe-inspiring ability to imitate all kinds of sounds in their environment. In the video below, you’ll hear a lyrebird imitate other songbirds in the forest (he can copy up to 20 different species), including a laughing kookaburra. Then he goes on to perfectly mimic a camera shutter, a camera with a motor drive, a car alarm, and chainsaws!
Male lyrebirds are not only master imitators, they also have huge, beautiful tails and put on the mother of all courtship dances during mating rituals.
Two Species: The Superb Lyrebird and Albert’s Lyrebird
There are two species of lyrebird, the Superb lyrebird, which is the larger of the two, and Albert’s lyrebird, named in honor of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. The Superb lyrebird’s habitat is the rainforest in Victoria, New South Wales and southeast Queensland, Tasmania, in the national parks of Australia and in non-protected bushland. Albert’s lyrebird is only found in a small area of Southern Queensland rainforest.
Lyrebirds are passerines, and among the largest of the order. They live on the ground and only get airborne to glide downhill. They have powerful legs and feet, and short rounded wings. Female Superb lyrebirds are 29 to 33 inches long; males are 31 to 38 inches. Albert’s lyrebirds are a few inches shorter in length and have somewhat less impressive feathers.
Male lyrebirds have spectacular plumage and perform dance displays and songs for the females. The females are less showy and a lot quieter. They are also quite independent, defending their own territory and raising their young by themselves.
Lyrebirds are shy and very wary of humans, so little is known about their behavior. They feed on the ground, using their feet to scratch through leaf-litter, and prey on insects, centipedes, spiders, earthworms, and occasionally lizards, frogs, and seeds.
Lyrebirds can live up to 30 years and start breeding relatively late in life, from ages five to eight. The females build nests low to the ground and lay a single egg that incubates over 50 days. Once the chick is hatched, the female lyrebird is the sole caregiver.
Male Lyrebirds Live to Impress the Ladies
Male lyrebirds sing year-round, but really put their heart and soul into it during the peak breeding season from June to August, when they may sing for four hours a day. Lyrebirds are able to perfectly mimic the songs of other birds, plus koalas and dingoes -- almost any sound in their environment. They have been recorded imitating a car’s engine, fire alarms, gunshots, dogs barking, babies crying, music, and even the human voice.
In addition to their vocalizations, male lyrebirds make quite the spectacle of themselves during breeding season. They clear space on the forest floor and build round mounds of dirt that they defend from other males. When a female lyrebird happens by and looks his way, the male will approach her with his tail up over his head, and then back up alluringly to one of his mounds of dirt. Sexy!
The females are looking for top-notch talent to father their chicks – the best singer and dancer, and the fellow with the most impressive tail. Only the best all-around males get to mate and pass on their genes. This naturally produces offspring equally or even more impressive!