Friday, January 11, 2013

Really Weird Birds Part 11

Australia has some amazing species of birds; one such example is the Superb Lyrebird.  The name “Lyrebird” comes from the resemblance of the male’s tail to a Greek lyre, especially when he is on full display (a Lyre is a type of a harp often seen in ancient Greek frescoes or pottery such as the photo below).

The only other species of Lyrebird, called Albert’s Lyrebird, has a more subdued version of the Superb Lyrebird’s tail.  They of course use their tails in courtship displays.  The rest of their body is quite drab, a brownish gray coloration. 
Male Superb Lyrebird in full display
During mating season, males will defend their territory against other males.  They are polygamous, meaning they will mate with more than one female, and display to as many females as possible.  The ladies will check out several different males before choosing to mate.  During courtship, the male will stand on a platform made of soil.  He will sing and dance and display his beautiful tail.  He inverts his tail over his head, fanning out his feathers to form a silvery white canopy.

The vocalizations of the Lyrebird are very impressive.  It has species-specific noises but most of its song consists of mimicry of other birds, animals, and other sounds.  The Lyrebird's syrinx (vocal organ) is the most complexly muscled of the songbirds, giving it amazing skill, unrivaled in song and mimicry.  The Lyrebird is capable of imitating almost any sound.  They have been recorded mimicking human caused sounds such as camera shutters, car alarms, and chainsaws, as seen in this video.  They have also been heard to mimic rifle shots, dogs barking, crying babies, music, and even the human voice.

Lyrebirds are among the largest of the passerines or songbirds (order Passeriformes, which includes warblers, sparrows, and even crows).  They are fairly long-lived birds and can live up to thirty years old.  They also start breeding later in life than other passerine birds.  Females are sexually mature at five to six years and males not until six to eight years of age.  Females typically lay a single egg in a ground nest and are the sole caretakers of the chick.

Lyrebirds find their food on the ground by scratching their feet through the leaf litter.  They eat a wide range of invertebrates such as cockroaches, beetle larvae, earwigs, fly larvae, moths, centipedes, spiders, earthworms, lizards, frogs and occasionally, seeds.
Male Superb Lyrebird foraging

The Superb Lyrebird, once seriously threatened by habitat destruction, is now classified as common.  Albert's Lyrebird has a very restricted habitat and had been listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), but due to careful management of the species and its habitat the species was downgraded to Near Threatened in 2009.

Even so, lyrebirds are vulnerable to feral cats (house cats that were allowed to wander outside and went wild), house cats allowed to wander outside, and foxes.  It remains to be seen if habitat protection schemes will stand up to increased human population pressure.

Never let your pet cats wander outside.  In addition to the fact that cats kill millions of birds, rodents and other wildlife every year, allowing them to wander outdoors shortens their life spans by exposing them to disease, attacks by other animals, and the danger of being injured or killed by collision with vehicles.  

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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