From Academic Kids

Scientific classification


A Lyrebird is either of two large ground-dwelling Australian birds, most notable for their extraordinary ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from their environment. A lyrebird's call is a rich mixture of its own song and any number of other sounds it has heard. Lyrebirds commonly mimic other species of bird or animal, and not uncommonly include sounds as diverse as chainsaws, car engines, rifle-shots, camera shutters, and crying babies.

Australian folklore is rich with tales of lyrebird mimicry: if the story of a male lyrebird that used to regularly halt 19th century logging operations by mimicking the fire siren is not true, a hundred others are.

The lyrebird is so called because the male bird has a spectacular tail (resembling a lyre), consisting of 16 highly modified feathers - two long slender lyrates at the centre of the plume, two broader medians on the outside edges and twelve filamentaries arrayed between them.

Albert's Lyrebird has smaller, less spectacular lyrate feathers than the Superb Lyrebird, but is otherwise similar.

Males call mostly during winter, when they construct and maintain an open arena-mound in dense bush. During courtship rituals the male fans the tail forward over the top of its back, and the shape of the feathers strongly resembles a Grecian lyre. Females build an untidy domed nest usually low to the ground in a moist gully where she lays a single egg.

Lyrebirds feed on insects, spiders, worms and, occasionally, seeds. They find food by scratching with their feet through the leaf-litter. When in danger, lyrebirds run, rather than fly, being awkward in flight.

The classification of lyrebirds has been much debated. They were briefly thought to be Galliformes like the broadly similar looking partridge, junglefowl, and pheasants that Europeans were familiar with, but since then have usually been classified in a family of their own, the Menuridae.

It is generally accepted that the lyrebird family is most closely related to the scrub-birds (Atrichornithidae) and some authorities combine both in a single family, but evidence that they are also related to the bowerbirds remains controversial.

 Menura novaehollandiae
Menura novaehollandiae

There two species:

  • The Superb Lyrebird or Weringerong (Menura novaehollandiae) is found in areas of wet forest in Victoria and New South Wales, and in Tasmania where it was intorduced in the 19th Century. Female Superb Lyrebirds are 74-84cm long, and the males are a larger 80-98cm long —making them the largest passerine bird apart from the Common Raven and Thick-billed Raven.
  • Albert's Lyrebird (M. alberti) is slightly smaller at a maximum of 90 cm (male) and 84 cm (female). Albert's Lyrebird is only found in a very small area of Southern Queensland rainforest.

Many Superb Lyrebirds live in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, and in several other parks along the east coast of Australia.

Lyrebirds are not endangered in the short to medium term. Albert's Lyrebird has a very restricted habitat but appears to be secure within it so long as the habitat remains intact, while the Superb Lyrebird, once seriously threatened by habitat destruction, is now classified as common. Even so, lyrebirds are vulnerable to cats and foxes, and it remains to be seen if habitat protection schemes will stand up to increased human population pressure.

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