Imagine you’re walking through the forest and you suddenly hear the sound of a chainsaw nearby; the thought of a tree falling on you is enough to make you scramble for your life. But if you’re in an Australian forest, hold your thoughts and calm down for a bit; you will be pleased to know that the sound of the chainsaw might just be coming from a bird instead – the Superb Lyrebird.
Scientifically known as the Menura novaehollandiae, the Superb Lyrebird (above) is a songbird whose specialty is to mimic any sounds that it hears. This is one of the two species of Lyrebirds which exist, with the other being the Albert’s Lyrebird. In a YouTube video from BBC Wildlife, a male Superb Lyrebird can be heard performing amazing mimicries of a Kookaburra, car alarm, chainsaw and camera shutter sounds – mimicries so convincing that you would think they’re the real deal. (Check the video out here!) This vocal mimicry is usually prominent during male displays where male Superb Lyrebirds stand on a “platform” to perform a courtship song which includes its own song as well as imitations of other species and surrounding environment to attract females. While doing so, the male Superb Lyrebird will spread out its tail (above), showing off a stunning display of its feathers.
The Superb Lyrebird’s syrinx (vocal chords) is “the most complex of all songbirds” (Birds.com, 2007) and this gives the bird its astonishing ability to reproduce sounds accurately. The accuracy of vocal mimicry in Superb Lyrebirds is also an “indicator of male age” (Zann & Dunstann, 2008). Although vocal mimicry plays a clear role in the selection of mates, not many studies have been done regarding the relationship between the complexity of vocal mimicry and the level of mating success (Kelly et al., 2008).
“Amazing! Bird sounds from the lyre bird – David Attenborough – BBC wildlife” by BBC. BBCWorldwide YouTube Channel, 12 February 2007. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjE0Kdfos4Y (accessed on 27 Mar 2010).
Kelly, L. A., Coe, R. L., Madden, J. R., Healy, S. D. 2008. Vocal mimicry in songbirds. Animal Behaviour, 76: 521-528.
“Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) by kookr. Flickr: Kookr’s photostream. URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kookr/3866749339 (accessed on 27 Mar 2010)
“The Marvelous Mimicry of the Lyrebird,” by Editor. Birds.com, 10 September 2007. URL: http://www.birds.com/blog/the-marvelous-mimicry-of-the-lyrebird (accessed on 26 Mar 2010).
Zann, R. & Dunstan, E. 2008. Mimetic song in superb lyrebirds: species mimicked and mimetic accuracy in different populations and age classes. Animal Behaviour, 76: 1043-1054.