Lyre Bird

This is the superb lyrebird… no that really is his name… they did toy around with calling him the smashing lyrebird and the ‘why isn’t he just delightful’ lyrebird … but superb lyrebird stuck. The only other species of lyrebird, the albert’s lyrebird is said to be really rather jealous of this grand moniker. He’s named of course after Prince Albert and when you think about the other things that are named after him I think we can allow this songbird a sulk.

Ta Daaaa!

Ta Daaaa!

They are pheasant-sized birds that skedaddle around the Australian rainforest floor. Any sign of danger and they will leg it, straight down the nearest wombat hole if they can find one.

Though it’s not his ability to scarper that has propelled these superb (yes I am including you under that heading Albert so do stop sulking) creatures into The Proceedings. In fact what is Ever so Strange about these chaps is their quite frankly incredible mating rituals.

great, so let me get this straight, he's 'superb' and i'm named after some bloke with genital piercings?

great, so let me get this straight, he's 'superb' and i'm named after some bloke with genital piercings?

The male lyrebird will begin his tomfoolery in the winter when he builds and maintains a mound to perform on. The lyrebirds have the most complicated syrinx, the voicebox for want of a better word, of the birds. Which means this incredible fellow can sing the most beautiful songs, what’s more they can mimic just about any sound they hear.

In the 30’s a lyrebird by the name of James formed a bond with another smasher, a certain Mrs Wilkinson. After feeding him over a number of years he returned the favour by performing his courtship dance in the garden, he’d even do it for Mrs Wilkinson’s guests… but only if she was present. The word dance of course is perhaps a misnomer, as it’s really the song that is the virtuoso performance. James was said to include in his song the sounds of…

… the laughing-song of the kookaburra, two kookaburras having a bit of a laugh together, an Australian magpie, and a young magpie begging for a bit of grub, a bellbird, an eastern whipbird… I say I like the sound of her… a yellow-tailed black-cockatoo, a gang-gang cockatoo, an eastern rosella, a pied butcherbird, a wattle-bird, a grey shrike-thrush, a thornbill, a white-browed scrubwren, a striated pardalote, a starling, a yellow robin, a golden whistler, a flock of parrots having a merry old time, the crimson rosella, several other birds who no-one could work out what they were, the faintissimo cheeps of thousands of honey-eaters… a rock pulveriser, a hydraulic ram and the tooting of motor car horns.

Really rather amazing isn’t it. Once a park ranger went bushwhacking to find out why the blazes someone was playing a merry ditty on a flute in the middle of the bush. Turns out that the culprit was a lyrebird who had learned the tunes from a nearby farm where they had a gramophone for shindigs.

One of course would be very happy to have gone on about this marvellous fellow, but I’m really the last person who should lecture on the subject of making good impressions.

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Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 9:53 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. All birds use mimicry to some degree, but this guy takes the cake. Kinda sad that they’re running out of forest to live in. Their impressions of modern sound kinda symbolize that.

  2. Good to see you have this Superb Lyrebird! I actually came over to suggest it to you… My friend Martyn Stewart http://www.NatureSound.org was working with Attenborough on this segment and had the privilege of recording the natural sounds you hear. Martyn said the bird went on a bent imitating the chainsaws and that the could never forget the sounds of deforestation with the concurrent commentary from this bird.

  3. What a lucky fellow! Yes quite sad to hear the noises he made, I’d advocate the teaching of all lyrebirds the phrase “TIMBER!” should confuse the bloody loggers


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