This week I am showcasing two of Australia’s most amazing and unique birds, the Superb Lyrebird and the Albert’s Lyrebird, both of which are endemic to the east coast of the Australian mainland. Their name Lyrebird is derived from the long tail plumage or lyrates of the mature males, which resembles the musical instrument by that name. You can imagine the fine lace like plumes to be like strings, as seen above. The more common Superb Lyrebird is found in the rainforests of far south eastern Queensland, all the way through eastern NSW to south eastern Victoria.
The mature male tail plumage takes up to six years to fully develop, making it sometimes difficult to discern the young male from the female which lacks the lyrates and lace plumage. Click photo to enlarge it.
This bird has many similar characteristics with the Satin Bowerbird in its long egg incubation (40-45 days), long period for male maturity (six years), life long practice of males learning to dance and perform mimicry song to impress and win mates. The Bowerbird male also includes lifelong practice at building a bower. The juvenile, similar to the female has a rufous throat, as seen in some other rainforest birds such as the Logrunner.
These birds seldom fly, though they can, but usually only very short distances, as they are territorial and tend not to leave the protection of their rainforest area. Their elaborate tail plumage is more for gliding than for flying any distance. They only fly to escape predators and humans, and to fly over rivers and streams. Under the tall tree canopy of the rainforest they have little need to fly. Most of their time is spent scratching in the leaf litter on the dark forest floor in search of worms and other insects, which is their main diet. This bird is the emblem of NSW National Parks.
In Australia’s early British settlement years, thousands of these birds were needlessly shot by so called ‘Naturalists’ who enjoyed bringing home animals and birds, but many were wasted and a few stuffed and sent back home to museums. Eventually this barbaric practice was outlawed and now the camera is the only shooting allowed. My grandson stands next to a stuffy of the Superb Lyrebird, showcasing my book which is sold in the Royal National Park gift shop. This bird is one of the many included in my book which is for purchase here online through secure PayPal. Many of my readers have already purchased it and have shared delightful reviews.
So from a young age the male practices his courtship dance and song, dancing to his own beat. It is very special to witness this in the wild.
We will share some of the very special moment, when we witnessed for the very first time, a male practicing behind some bush in the Blue Mountains NP. Now we often see them there each visit to Evans Lookout. Listen to the different bird calls of the Currawong, Cockatoo, Whipbird and Parrot. He spreads his tail up over his head as a covering in a similar way to the Peacock and dances and displays continual bird mimicry with amazing accuracy. The courtship ritual involves the male building and earthen mound about 15 centimeters high, which is like a stage where he performs his song and dance for the female. He may have many of these within his territory. This month being Autumn will mean that he will be busily preparing his mounds and fine tuning his choreography for the mating season. It is thought they breed in the Winter months because food sources are more plentiful at that time.
They can copy perfectly chain saws, jack hammers, camera shutters and any sound they hear. Look carefully to the bottom right of the spread tail feathers and you will see the mouth of the Lyrebird moving. I have heard a Lyrebird copy a chain saw, and it was a brilliant and perfect copy. This is the special moment my wife and I witnessed our first Lyrebird concert ever in the wild.
Listen to this sound file of another male sounding off. This is practiced as he puts together his song which he will present to his female hopeful when the times comes. The “Tch, tch, tch, tch” sound you occasionally hear in between the mimicry of other bird calls is his own sound, and this helps me identify him from other birds. This is a beautiful mindful experience, even if you can not see the bird, just to stop and hear its amazing repertoire and appreciate this amazing creature.
In recent years these birds have been decimated by reduction of habitat through land clearing for pine forest plantations and more so by domestic cats, ferule cats and foxes, especially in Victoria’s Sherbrooke Forest NP where these birds were almost completely wiped out by domestic cats. Locals have to chip and cage their cats to own them or heavy penalties apply. You can read more about it here.
Other predators which are often not thought of are reptiles such as this Lace Monitor. I found this one in the Royal National Park climbing a tree, to most likely check for any bird eggs. Surveys have shown that areas which have resident Lyrebirds have a significant reduction in bushfire intensity. It is thought there is some connection with them digging through leaf litter and reducing weed undergrowth propagation.
The Albert’s Lyrebird a much rarer bird and seldom ever seen by most Australians, living deep inside the rainforests found in the mountains bordering NSW and Queensland. The Lamington NP is the easiest place to attempt to see them, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, Canungra is the best. Similar to the Superb, they are more timid, and mature males are seldom seen. Here is a juvenile male.
They have a shorter tail than the Superb, with less impressive lyrates. There are differences in the male courtship ritual, which very few have ever witnessed in the wild. They are only found in this very small region of Australia, protected by the dense rainforest and difficult altitude. These birds can effortlessly disappear down almost vertical cliffs and gullies. They can also mimic but not as much as the Superb and have a different sound of their own.
These birds forage in the same way as the Superb by scratching in the leaf litter. They have a lovely chestnut brown wing plumage, and both sexes have the rufous chin.
If you should ever visit The Royal National Park or any of the rainforest regions around the Sydney area you may encounter a sighting, or at least a hearing of this remarkable bird. If you find me there we can share the experience, and a bird’s eye view…
The latest research on bird calls, in particular their repetitive sounds, is that they make their sound exactly the same pitch and strength without variation every time. If a human was to say the same word or sing the same line over and over, the pitch and duration of sound can be plotted to deteriorate and become longer and lower due to wearing out. The lyrebird in its continuous flow of mimicry does not weary or change, but reflects perfectly what it has heard on each occasion. Children are like young birds, they listen and repeat what they hear and see, and with surprising accuracy. This is always a warning to myself to be extra vigilant around children and now especially grandchildren which are sponges for learning to be like adults.
“As children copy their fathers you, as God’s children, are to copy him. Live your lives in love—the same sort of love which Christ gives us and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us in sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 5:1 (JBPNT)
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)
“Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.” – Colossians 3:21 (NIV)
Thank you for sharing this time with me and our beautiful birds. Have a most enjoyable week, experiencing the changing season. May it bring refreshing change in you as you be still and take it in.
If this is your first visit to my blog please check out my website Home-Page for more birding tips and healthy life skills.
NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.