Superb Lyrebird (Nature’s own sound recorder) can even mimic artificial sounds
The Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) is a pheasant-sized bird commonly found in Australia. Its diet includes small invertebrates on forest grounds or among rotting logs. A male has elegant tail feathers which he fans out during courtship display. Young males and females on the other hand have dull brown tail feathers. A lyrebird is shy and would silently disappear before one could get a glimpse of it. When it detects potential danger, it will flee by running on foot. Although it can fly, it is a rather weak flyer.
What is remarkable about this bird is its ability to mimic a variety of sounds such as the call of the Kookaburra, and even artificial sounds like the camera shutter and car-alarm. Although a lyrebird has its species-specific calls, about 70-80% of its call is mimicry (Sheehan, n.d.).
The value of using mimicry calls over species-specific calls is unclear. It could be that certain calls transmit better in the environment they are in and hence more cost-effective (Kelly, Coe, Madden & Healy, 2008). Therefore such calls can be used to attract potential mates. The male invests energy and time to learn and imitate a variety of sounds as accurately as possible to show females its physical fitness and maturity. It is also believed that the complexity of the sound is positively correlated to the mating success. Although simple sound takes less time to learn, it would reduce the male’s attractiveness and the opportunity to display its competence.
The mimicry calls also have a number of other possible non-mating explanations such as territorial and predator-alarm purposes, but a cohesive explanation has yet to be developed (Sheehan, n.d.). Nonetheless, this beautiful songbird certainly has proven its mimicry abilities.
“Amazing! Bird sounds from the lyre bird – David Attenborough – BBC wildlife,” by BBCWorldwide. YouTube Channel, 12 February 2007. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjE0Kdfos4Y (accessed on March 16, 2013).
“Superb Lyrebird in Victoria, Australia,” by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, June 2008. URL: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ae/Superb_lyrbird_in_scrub.jpg/800px-Superb_lyrbird_in_scrub.jpg (accessed on March 16, 2013)
Kelley, L. A., Coe, R. L., Madden, J. R., & Healy, S. D. (2008). Vocal mimicry in songbirds. Animal Behaviour, 76, 521-528. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347208001796
Sheehan, B. (n.d.). Vocal mimicry in male lyrebirds. Retrieved March 15, 2013, from bconklindotcom.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/lyrebird-mimicry.pdf