It’s amazing what you can find with Google. Whenever I can’t think of an animal to write about, I simply google “cool **insert animal type here**” and I inevitably find a list of amazing animals I haven’t blogged about yet. It’s quite heartening to know how many awesome creatures there are out there.
Today’s animal came up on a list of birds that have better abilities than superheroes. You can find the list here: http://www.cracked.com/article_19483_5-birds-with-abilities-that-put-superheroes-to-shame.html. The one that caught my eye was the lyrebird, which can be found in rainforests in Australia. There are two species of lyrebird, the superb lyrebird and Albert’s lyrebird. Can you guess which species is better?
Lyrebirds are large birds, and are in fact some of the largest perching birds in the world. They reach up to 98 cm in length, with the superb lyrebird being bigger than Albert’s lyrebird. They live on the ground and have strong legs and small wings. Though they can fly, lyrebirds usually don’t, only using their wings to glide short distances downhill. Male lyrebirds are larger than females, and have the added bonus of having huge, beautiful tail feathers that they use during courtship.
The courtship display of lyrebirds involves males constructing a display platform, which is either a heap of soil or a stack of twigs, depending on the species. The males then dance and sing to a number of (hopefully) admiring females. Most lyrebird displays occur during the winter months. Once mating occurs, the female builds a nest in low-lying areas and lays one egg, which she incubates for over 50 days. Lyrebirds are quite long-lived, being able to live up to 30 years.
The most impressive feature of lyrebirds isn’t their size, or their nice tails, but actually their vocal chords. Lyrebirds have an incredible ability to mimic sounds, and use their extremely complex voice box to do so. They sing their own very complex songs, but also add in the songs of other local birds, and even other animals, including humans. The more complex the males’ songs are, the more likely they are to get noticed by a pretty female bird.
Lyrebirds have successfully reproduced sounds such as car alarms, chainsaws, crying babies, cell phone ringers, and human voices. A researcher recorded lyrebirds singing in flute-like tones in 1969, and managed to trace the songs back to the 1930s, when a flute player living on a farm near the forest used to play for his pet lyrebird. It turns out that the lyrebirds from 1969 were singing “The Keel Row” and “Mosquito’s Dance”, which were two songs popular in the 1930s. While lyrebirds’ abilities to recreate human sounds and remember them is certainly impressive, it is actually a fairly rare phenomenon in nature, with natural sounds mostly dominating the lyrebirds’ repertoires. Here’s a neat video of a lyrebird singing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjE0Kdfos4Y. It’s pretty unbelievable.
I must admit, it’d be pretty cool to have a pet lyrebird. It’d be like having a voice recorder, but it’d be alive and probably wouldn’t shut up when you told it to. Actually, maybe having a pet lyrebird would be really annoying. They’re probably better off in the wild.
Cover image by fir0002 flagstaffotos [at] gmail.com Canon 5D II + Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons