Thursday, 2 June 2011

Lyre Bird

The Lyre bird is the Little Richard of the animal kingdom! They can mimic any sound they hear, from other birdcalls and camera shutters to chainsaws or car alarms or even people talking. It has quite an epic vocal cord that impersonators would kill for.

The Lyre bird is a ground dwelling Australian bird (they also live in New Zealand) with a unique plumage of coloured tail feathers. There are two species of lyre birds - the Superb lyre bird that can be up to 98cm long and Albert's lyre bird that can be up to 90cm long. They are brown, black or grey with brown or black striped tail feathers.
Male lyre birds call mostly during winter; they make a cleared area to maintain an open arena-mound in dense bush where they will sing and dance to court the females. Once the courting is successful the female will make an untidy nest, lay one egg and be the only one to lay on it for 50 days until it hatches. The female is also the only caretaker for the chick as well.

Lyre birds will eat insects, spiders, earthworms and sometimes seeds which they find by scratching through the loose leaves on the forest floor. Lyre birds are not big on confrontation, when threatened they will run away and hide rather than flight; they would rather run away than fly because they are awkward fliers. Firefighters have reported them hiding in mine shafts during bushfires so as stated before, they would rather run and hide.

The mimicry contains a big mixture of other sounds to impress the ladies, sort of like making a mix tape to impress your crush. Lyre birds have the most complexly muscled syrinx (vocal cord) of the Passerines (songbirds). Lyre birds can amazingly mimic the calls of other birds/animals and the sounds of other things. Lyre birds have been known to mimic the sounds of chainsaws, car engines, car alarms, fire alarms, rifle shots, camera shutters, dogs barking, crying babies, human voices and multiple bird calls and sounds at the same time. Females have the same amazing mimicry that the males do but they very rarely use it, I guess they are more modest. In 1969 a park ranger recorded a lyre bird song, which resembled a flute sound; it turned out that a flutist near by liked to practice and the lyre bird would mimic him songs.

In the early 1930s a male lyrebird named James formed a close bond with a lady named Mrs. Wilkinson. After a while of feeding James, Mrs. Wilkinson taught him to stand on a particular mound and perform a mating call and courtship dance for her, she even got him to perform for a crowd but he would only do it if she were in the crowd. James was known to perform for 43 minutes which included copying (perfectly) the calls of Australian Magpie, a young Magpie being fed by an adult, an Eastern Whipbird, a Bellbird, a complete laughing song of the Kookaburra, two Kookaburras laughing in unison, 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, a Crimson Rosella, the song of Honey-eaters (tiny birds with you can barely hear), a few other birds that were not recognize by the crowd, sounds made by rock crushers at work, a hydraulic ram and the tooting of motor-horns. I think every DJ should have a lyre bird.

This bird would be the life of any party! With its amazing vocal prowess it goes to show how amazing nature can be and the amazing things a creature can do!

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