4 No-Way! facts about Nature’s Impersonator: the Lyrebird

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Lyrebird 2016Australia’s Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandae) amuses many visitors to Sydney’s OutBack; nature’s impersonator is able to imitate sounds like chainsaws and a radio, as well as iconic bird calls like the laughing kookaburra, gurgling magpie and whip-cracking whip-bird.

Shy by nature, Superb Lyrebirds are most often sighted fleetingly as they dart across the road; yet they’re fascinating social and biological creatures. Here are our top four no-way! facts about Sydney OutBack’s favourite songbird:

  1. Lyrebird early illustrationThe lyre, an ancient Greek string instrument, inspired the species’ family name because the adult male’s unique 16-feather tail display resembled the curved, round arms of the lyre. At rest, Superb Lyrebirds, the larger of Australia’s two  lyrebirds at just 1kg and around 70-100cm
    long, seem a rather unremarkable, chocolate-toned pheasant – in fact, originally, called the native pheasant. However, when it comes to courting, the Superb Lyrebird draws his imposing tail forward over his head, fanned like a mardi-gras headpiece, and shimmers it to attract attention from females – it’s a sight that ranks the Superb Lyrebird among the dozen most spectacular tail feathers of any species in the world.Lyre
  2. Famous for its incredible ability to imitate natural and man-made sounds, The Superb Lyrebird was introduced to the world via a surprising featurette on Sir David Attenborough’s Life of Birds series as well as National Geographic. Sir David described the Superb Lyrebird’s call as a contender for the “most elaborate, most complex and most beautiful song in the world” – and, while they sing all year, the male performs considerably more impressive vocal gymnastics than the female and sings extensively in breeding seasons to attract a mate. While some suggest it allows the male Lyrebird to vocally claim and defend his territory, we sometimes wonder if this comedian enjoys catching other species off guard and is simply entertaining himself! Unfortunately, for the girls who are lured, the polygamous male is more interested in a once-night-stand (or several of them) than a long-term relationship. Call the lad a taxi…
  3. Lyrebird tail display_animalbaseParticularly territorial during mating season (right now in Sydney OutBack: May – July annually), the ground dwelling Lyrebird male will scratch more than a dozen of clearings in the scrub and build dirt mounds as his stages, on which he will perform elaborate courtship displays of song, movement and tail shaking for up to half an hour! Watch the tail display in action (active June 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqmeQ884ZCA). He will use his call to attract a mate, as well as to deter predators and threats, adjusting the sounds he mimics to achieve his end. Any female that he attracts, he will mate with. He then returns to his stage to lure his next fling, leaving the “fertilised female” to build a dome-shaped nest of foliage and sticks, alone, in which she lays a mottled brown egg. She will remain on her nest, incubating the egg, for 6-7 weeks and will nurture her chick, as a single mum, for a further 6-7 weeks. Incredibly, this native wild bird will live up to 25-30 years old.
  4. Lyrebird_abcKu-ring-gai Chase National Park is home to the Superb Lyrebird, and its prevalence in Australia can be dated back to ancient times according to the fossil records – around 15 million years ago (Australian Museum). The Superb Lyrebird is a species that can’t help make and leave an impression – on the Australian 10c coin, in several stamp series, in the logo of the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, and in Sydney OutBack’s EcoPass permit logo.

Sydney OutBack recently posted the top five birds of the Park on our blog as voted by recent guests, and, you’re right, it should have been the top six to include the Superb Lyrebird! If this is your favourite bird in Ku-ring-gai Chase, read more online at http://australianmuseum.net.au/superb-lyrebird. To learn more about Sydney OutBack’s Wilderness and Aboriginal Explorer Tour and Cruise, just click here.

Our tours are also part of Tourism Australia’s Indigenous Tourism Champions Program (ITCP), recognizing that we offer a quality experience that that meets the needs and expectations of international visitors.

PHOTO CREDITS: All images sourced online incl https://ferrebeekeeper.wordpress.com/tag/lyre/), ABC, AnimalBase.

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