Nature Blows My Mind! From car alarms to chainsaws, lyrebirds imitate almost any sound (Video)

lyrebird
CC BY-NC 3.0 Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

We know that certain birds like parrots are skilled at imitating voices and sounds they hear around them. But even the colourful parrot can't hold a candle to the astonishing talent of the superb lyrebird, a ground-dwelling species native to Australia (Menura novaehollandiae). This amazing creature has been documented in faithfully reproducing a diverse number of sounds, ranging from other birdsongs, to koalas and dingos, to human-made sounds like chainsaws, car alarms, camera shutters, video games and even crying babies. Check out the lyrebird in action in this excerpt from The Life of Birds with David Attenborough:

According to Wikipedia, though both sexes are capable of imitating almost any sound they hear, it is the male lyrebird that is more skilled and persistent in showing off its vocal flair, as a way of impressing potential mates. Males will engage in behaviours worthy of a world-class tenor, such as clearing a spot on the forest floor and building up a mound of earth to stand upon before performing, almost like a concert stage. Of course, it is also the male in this case who is adorned with a set of sixteen long feathers, with the outermost two looking very much like a lyre, which he can array behind him in a canopy for courtship displays.

Fir0002/Flagstaffotos/CC BY-NC 3.0

Not only can the lyrebird imitate songs of other birds convincingly, the repertoire of these imitated sounds are also passed down, says Oddity Central:

Once a lyrebird learns a call, it’s almost never forgotten. And the calls are passed on through generations. So a few lyrebirds in Victoria actually recreate sounds that are hardly heard by humans anymore – the sounds of axes and saws, and old-fashioned cameras that haven’t been used for years. “Because they’re the most successful birds and the most photographed birds, they’re imitating all the old sounds,” said Martyn Robinson, a naturalist at Australia Museum in Sydney.

Melburnian/CC BY-SA 3.0

The lyrebird's unsurpassed vocal skill is often attributed to the complex musculature of the vocal organ called the syrinx, which is more flexible compared to other songbirds -- to the point where it is capable of carrying more than one tune at a time, says Wikipedia:

One researcher, Sydney Curtis, has recorded flute-like lyrebird calls in the vicinity of the New England National Park. Similarly, in 1969, a park ranger, Neville Fenton, recorded a lyrebird song which resembled flute sounds in the New England National Park, near Dorrigo in northern coastal New South Wales. After much detective work by Fenton, it was discovered that in the 1930s, a flute player living on a farm adjoining the park used to play tunes near his pet lyrebird. The lyrebird adopted the tunes into his repertoire, and retained them after release into the park. Neville Fenton forwarded a tape of his recording to Norman Robinson. Because a lyrebird is able to carry two tunes at the same time, Robinson filtered out one of the tunes and put it on the phonograph for the purposes of analysis. The song represents a modified version of two popular tunes in the 1930s: "The Keel Row" and "Mosquito's Dance". Musicologist David Rothenberg has endorsed this information.

Stavenn/CC BY-SA 2.0

A truly fascinating bird; more over at Wikipedia and Oddity Central.

Tags: Animals | Australia

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