The superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) is an Australian songbird, one of two species from the family Menuridae. It is one of the world's largest songbirds, and is renowned for its elaborate tail and courtship displays, and its excellent mimicry. The species is endemic to Australia and is found in forests in the south-east of the country. According to David Attenborough, the superb lyrebird displays the most sophisticated voice skills within the animal kingdom.
Superb lyrebirds are passerine birds within the Menuridae family, being one of the two species of lyrebirds forming the genus Menura, with the other being the much rarer Albert’s lyrebird. The superb lyrebird can be distinguished from Albert’s lyrebird by its slightly larger size, less reddish colour and more ornate tail feathers.
Lyrebirds are ancient Australian animals. The Australian Museum contains fossils of lyrebirds dating back to about 15 million years ago. The prehistoric Menura tyawanoides has been described from early Miocene fossils found at the famous Riversleigh site.
The bird was introduced to southern Tasmania in 1934-54, amid ill-founded fears the species was becoming threatened with extinction in its mainland populations. The Tasmania population is thriving and even growing. Across the rest of its large range, the lyrebird is common, and is evaluated as being of least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
This range of the superb lyrebird includes a variety of biomes, including sub-tropical and temperate rainforests, and wet and dry sclerophyll forests. The preferred habitat of the bird is in wet forests and rainforests, where there is an open ground layer of moist leaf litter shaded by vegetation. In favourable seasons, the lyrebird range is often extended into drier areas further from water sources.
The superb lyrebird is a large, pheasant-sized terrestrial passerine, ranging in length from 860mm (female) to 1m (male). Females weigh around 0.9kg, and males weigh around 1.1kg. The plumage colour is mainly dark brown on the upper body, with greyish-brown underparts and red-tinged flight feathers. The wings are short and round, and are only capable of weak flight, being mainly used for balance or for gliding from trees to the ground. The legs are powerful, capable of running quickly, and the feet are strong enough to move branches of up to 10cm in diameter.
Lyrebirds are renowned for their ornate tails. Adult males have tails up to 700mm long, consisting of sixteen feathers. The outer two feathers, the lyrates, are broad S-shaped feathers, originally named for their resemblance to the shape of a lyre, and have brown and buff coloured patterning. Between the lyrates are twelve filamentaries, feathers of flexible silvery barbs. In the centre of the tail are two silvery median feathers. The tail of the female is less ornate, with shorter lyrates and plain, broad feathers in place of the filamentaries.. In both sexes, juveniles have no ornamental tail feathers. The tail plumage develops into that of the mature bird through a series of annual moults, with feathers undergoing change in structure and patterning. The male superb lyrebird reaches maturity in 7-9 years, and the female in 6-7 years.
Superb lyrebirds are ground-dwelling birds that typically live solitary lives. Adults usually live singly in territories, but young birds without territories may associate in small groups which can be single or mixed-sex. Lyrebirds are not strong fliers and are not highly mobile, often remaining within the same area for their entire lifespans. Superb lyrebird territories are generally small, and there are known behavioural differences between different populations.
The diet of the superb lyrebird consists primarily of invertebrates such as earthworms and insects found on the forest floor. There is also evidence that the birds are mycophagists, meaning they eat fungi.
Superb lyrebirds forage by scratching vigorously in the upper soil layers, disturbing the topsoil and leaf litter. The birds are most likely to forage in damp rainforest vegetation relative to drier areas, and in areas where the bottom vegetation strata is open and low in complexity, allowing good access to food sources in the leaf litter.
Superb lyrebirds exhibit polygyny, with a single male mating with several females. A male’s territory can overlap with up to six female territories. Within his territory, the male will construct several circular mounds of bare dirt on the forest floor, for the purpose of conducting courtship displays. These mounds are defended vigorously from other males.
There is strong sexual selection in lyrebirds, with females visiting the territories of several different males and choosing the most desirable males with which to copulate. When a male encounters a female lyrebird, he performs an elaborate courtship display on the nearest mound. This display incorporates both song and dance elements. The male fans out his tail horizontally to cover his entire body and head. The tail feathers are vibrated, and the lyrebird beats his wings against his body and struts around the mound. He also sings loudly, incorporating his own vocalisations with mimicry of other bird calls. A study has found evidence that the lyrebirds’ ‘dance choreography’ is highly coordinated to different types of song repertoire. Coordination of movement with acoustic signals is a trait previously thought to be unique to humans, and indicates high cognitive ability.
Females are the sole providers of parental care. They build large domed nests out of sticks on raised earth platforms. Nests are most likely to be located in wetter areas with deep leaf litter and high understory vegetation complexity, reflecting the requirements of food availability and protection from predators.
The female breeds once per year in winter, usually laying a single egg. Eggs are laid in a deep bed of lyrebird feathers within the nest, and are then incubated by the female for up to 7 weeks. Post-fledging parental care lasts several months, with the female exerting significant energy in feeding and brooding the nestling.
The superb lyrebird is renowned for its mimicry, with an estimated 70-80% of the male’s vocalisations consisting of imitations of other model bird species. Females also sing and are capable of mimicry, however, although not to the extent of the males. Mimetic items can be interspersed with lyrebird-specific songs, territorial calls, and alarm calls. The songs adhere to recognisable structures, with different elements repeated in certain patterns.
The mimicry of the superb lyrebird is highly accurate, with even the model animal at times unable to distinguish between model song and mimicked song. For example, one study found that strike-thrushes did not respond any differently to hearing their own songs than to hearing imitations by lyrebirds.
Generally, juveniles initially learn mimetic items through transmission by older lyrebirds, rather than from the model species themselves. This is reflected in the vocalisations of lyrebirds in the Sherbrooke Forest in Victoria, which were observed to frequently mimic the song of pilotbirds, a species that had not been recorded in the area for over 10 years. During the winter when the nestlings hatch, adults more frequently mimic model species that are less active during this time, again suggesting that mimetic items are initially learnt from other lyrebirds.
The quality of mimetic song increases with age, with adult superb lyrebirds having both greater accuracy and a more diverse repertoire of mimetic songs when compared to subadult birds. Subadult lyrebirds produce recognisable imitations, however fall short of adult versions in terms of frequency range, consistency and acoustic purity, for example in imitations of the complex whipbird call.
Like many passerine species, there are significant differences in lyrebird song in different populations over its geographic range. These include differences in repertoire and vocalisation characteristics, and may be due to differences in local bird species assemblages which provide different options for model selection. It could also be due to differences in the acoustic environment mediated by vegetation structure, with lyrebirds more likely to mimic fragments of bird songs that are most acoustically prominent.
The mimicry of male superb lyrebirds is a well-known example of a sexually selected trait. Females prefer males that produce more accurate mimicry and that have a greater diversity of mimetic songs in their repertoire. Although to the human ear the differences between songs are indistinguishable, there are differences in the mimetic song quality between individual lyrebirds due to signal degredation, reverberation and attenuation, as well as the frequency and volume attained. There is evidence that there are costs associated with the development of mimetic song, and while these costs are currently unknown, they indicate that that quality of a lyrebird’s mimetic song is an honest signal that can be used by females in mate selection.
Historically, there has been far more research on the mimetic abilities of male lyrebirds. This is primarily due to the assumption that the evolution of song in passerines resulted primarily from the selection on males in attracting mates or deterring rivals. However, a study found that females also produced mimetic vocalisations while foraging and during nest defence, suggesting that mimicry has a function in deterring predators and conspecific rivals.
In David Attenborough's Life of Birds (ep. 6), the superb lyrebird is described as able to imitate twenty bird species' calls, and a male is shown mimicking a car alarm, chainsaw and various camera shutters. However, two of the three lyrebirds features were captive birds.
A recording of a superb lyrebird mimicking sounds of an electronic shooting game, workmen and chainsaws was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2013. The vocalizations of some superb lyrebirds in the New England area of New South Wales are said to possess a flute-like timbre.
The foraging behaviour of the superb lyrebird has a major effect on the structure of the forest floor. A lyrebird can move and bury up to 200 tonnes per hectare of leaf litter and soil every year, disturbing the soil to a greater extent than virtually any other animal. This soil disturbance hastens the decomposition of the leaf litter, and increases the rate of nutrient cycling in the ecosystem. The lyrebirds’ clearing of bare patches also reduces the amount of fuel available for forest fires, which in turn reduces the extent and intensity of wildfires.
Superb lyrebirds are vulnerable to native predatory birds such as the collared sparrowhawk, gray goshawk, and currawongs. Nests are particularly vulnerable to predation, but adults are also vulnerable due to their loud calls. It has been observed that males suffer higher degrees of mortality, suggesting that their courtship displays render them highly vulnerable. Methods utilised by superb lyrebirds to reduce predation risk include selection of protected areas for nest sites, mimicking calls of other predatory birds, and adopting solitary and timid behaviours.
As the superb lyrebird is a poor flyer, when alarmed it will tend to run away, sometimes incorporating short gliding flights to lower perches or downhill.
Human factors also pose threats to superb lyrebirds. Because they are ground-dwelling, superb lyrebirds are particularly threatened by vehicle collisions. The presence of roads and infrastructure also pose edge effects, for example disturbance from domestic animals and predation by introduced species such as the red fox, which is often associated with urban areas.
An instantly recognisable bird, the superb lyrebird has been featured as an emblem many times. Notable examples of this include a male superb lyrebird being featured on the reverse side of the Australian 10-cent coin, and as the emblem of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.
John Gould's historic painting of a male and female pair of superb lyrebirds has the tail feathers of the male incorrectly displayed, with the lyrates in the centre of the plume surrounded by the filamentaries. This happened when a superb lyrebird specimen was prepared for display at the British Museum by a taxidermist who had never seen a live lyrebird, and Gould later painted his artwork from this incorrect presentation.
A specimen of a male superb lyrebird, at the American Museum of Natural History, also has the tail feathers displayed incorrectly.
The year 1800 in science and technology included many significant events.Albert's lyrebird
Albert's lyrebird (Menura alberti) is a timid, pheasant-sized songbird which is endemic to subtropical rainforests of Australia, in a small area on the state border between New South Wales and Queensland. The rarer of the two species of lyrebirds, Albert's lyrebird is named after Prince Albert, the prince consort of Queen Victoria, queen of the United Kingdom. It lacks the elegant lyre-shaped tail feathers of the superb lyrebird and is found in a much more restricted range.
In the past, Albert's lyrebirds were shot to be eaten in pies, to supply tail-feathers to "globe-trotting curio-hunters" or by vandals.The total population of Albert's lyrebirds is estimated at only 3,500 breeding birds and it has one of the smallest distributional ranges of any bird on the continent.Australian ten-cent coin
The Australian ten-cent coin is a coin of the decimal Australian dollar. When the dollar was introduced as half of an Australian pound on 14 February 1966, the coin inherited the specifications of the pre-decimal shilling; both coins were worth one twentieth of a pound. On introduction it was the fourth-lowest denomination coin. Since the withdrawal from circulation of the one and two cent coins in 1992, it has been the second-lowest denomination coin in circulation.
For the first year of minting (1966), 30 million coins were produced at the British Royal Mint (then in London), and 11 million at the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra. Since then, all coins have been produced in Canberra, with the exception of 1981 when 40 million coins from the Royal Mint's new headquarters in Llantrisant, Wales supplemented the 76.1 million produced in Canberra.Years without issue were 1986, 1987, 1995 and 1996. The lowest mintage was in 2011, when 1.7 million coins were issued. There has been one commemorative issue for this denomination, the 50th anniversary of decimal currency in 2016.The image of a male superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) is displayed on the reverse of all ten-cent coin. It was designed by Stuart Devlin, who designed the reverses of all of the coins of the Australian dollar introduced in 1966.The obverse has displayed different designs featuring the head of Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia: from 1966 to 1984, the head by Arnold Machin; from 1985 to 1998, the head by Raphael Maklouf; from 1999 to 2015, and since 2017, the head by Ian Rank-Broadley. The obverse of these coins has the inscription AUSTRALIA and the year-of-issue on the right hand side, and ELIZABETH II on the left hand side. In 2016, (the 50th anniversary of decimal currency), the obverse was designed by G. K. Gray.Five-cent, ten-cent, twenty-cent, and fifty-cent coins are legal tender up to the sum of $5.Buln Buln, Victoria
Buln Buln is a small town in West Gippsland, approximately 8 kilometres north of Warragul. At the 2016 Census, Buln Buln had a population of 548 overwhelmingly born in Australia.Burrin Burrin Reserve
The Burrin Burrin Reserve is a privately owned nature reserve located in the upper reaches of the Shoalhaven River catchment in the Southern Tablelands region of southeastern New South Wales, Australia. The 411-hectare (1,020-acre) reserve is situated 270 kilometres (170 mi) southwest of Sydney, 80 kilometres (50 mi) east of Canberra, and 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Braidwood. The reserve is owned and managed by Bush Heritage Australia which purchased the property in 1999.Healesville Sanctuary
Healesville Sanctuary, formally known as the Sir Colin MacKenzie Sanctuary, is a zoo specialising in native Australian animals. It is located at Healesville in rural Victoria, Australia, and has a history of breeding native animals. It is one of only two places to have successfully bred a platypus, the other being Sydney's Taronga Zoo. It also assists with a breeding population of the endangered helmeted honeyeater.The zoo is set in a natural bushland environment where paths wind through different habitat areas showcasing wallabies, wombats, dingoes, kangaroos, and over 200 native bird varieties.
Guided tours, bird shows and information areas are available to visitors.Hedleyella falconeri
Hedleyella falconeri, the giant panda snail, is a species of air-breathing land snail, a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc in the family Caryodidae. It is the largest species of land snail to be found in Australia.John Latham (ornithologist)
John Latham (27 June 1740 – 4 February 1837) was an English physician, naturalist and author. His main works were A General Synopsis of Birds (1781–1801) and General History of Birds (1821–1828). He was able to examine specimens of Australian birds which reached England in the last twenty years of the 18th century, and was responsible for naming many of them. These included the emu, sulphur-crested cockatoo, wedge-tailed eagle, superb lyrebird and Australian magpie. He was also the first to describe the hyacinth macaw. Latham has been called the "grandfather" of Australian ornithology.Kalorama, Victoria
Kalorama is a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 35 km east of Melbourne's central business district. Its local government area is the Shire of Yarra Ranges. At the 2016 Census, Kalorama had a population of 1,239.
The suburb was first settled by Europeans around 1855 when Isaac Jeeves, Mathew Child and Jabez Richardson took up selections. The traditional custodians of the area are the Wurundjeri of the Kulin nation.
The Post Office opened on 1 October 1909, but was known as Hand's Corner until 1910, then Mount Dandenong North until 1926.The area, renowned for its beauty, is the site of a famous lookout point named "Five Ways" which overlooks Kalorama Park, Silvan Reservoir, the National Rhododendron Gardens, and the R.J. Hamer Arboretum. Nearby attractions include William Ricketts Sanctuary, Olinda Falls, a gallery, and a range of tea-rooms, cafes and stores.
The forests of the region are dominated by various eucalypt species including mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans), the tallest known angiosperm. The local wet sclerophyll forests form habitat for many species of native bird including the superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) which can be sometimes heard voicing its characteristic mimicry from the deeper gullies and south-eastern aspects.
The area has featured in the work of many Australian artists, including Sir Arthur Streeton.Lyrebird
A lyrebird is either of two species of ground-dwelling Australian birds that compose the genus Menura, and the family Menuridae. They are most notable for their superb ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from their environment, and the striking beauty of the male bird's huge tail when it is fanned out in courtship display. Lyrebirds have unique plumes of neutral-coloured tailfeathers and are among Australia's best-known native birds.Menura tyawanoides
Menura tyawanoides is an extinct species of lyrebird from the Early Miocene of Australia. It was described by Walter Boles from fossil material (a complete left carpometacarpus) found in terrestrial limestone at the Upper Site of Riversleigh, in the Boodjamulla National Park of north-western Queensland. It was smaller than the two living species of lyrebirds. The specific epithet comes from tyawan (a Kumbainggiri term for the superb lyrebird) and the Greek suffix –oides (“resembling”).Mummel Gulf National Park
Mummel Gulf is a national park located in New South Wales, Australia, approximately 487 kilometres (303 mi) by road north of Sydney. It is situated approximately 50 kilometres (31 mi) southeast of Walcha on the unsealed Enfield Forest Road and 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south of the Oxley Highway.
The Mummel River has formed the deep 'V' shaped gorge of the Mummel Gulf, which exceeds 400 metres (1,300 ft) in the head of this gorge.Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve
The Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve is a protected nature reserve that is located in the Central Tablelands region of New South Wales, in eastern Australia. The 5,934-hectare (14,660-acre) reserve is situated on the Great Dividing Range, 35 kilometres (22 mi) north-east of Mudgee. The Castle Rocks walking trail reveals pagoda-like sandstone formations.Passerine
A passerine is any bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or – less accurately – as songbirds, passerines are distinguished from other orders of birds by the arrangement of their toes (three pointing forward and one back), which facilitates perching, amongst other features specific to their evolutionary history in Australaves.
With more than 110 families and some 6,409 identified species, Passeriformes is the largest order of birds and among the most diverse orders of terrestrial vertebrates. Passerines are divided
into three clades, Acanthisitti (New Zealand wrens), Tyranni (suboscines) and Passeri (oscine).The passerines contain several groups of brood parasites such as the viduas, cuckoo-finches, and the cowbirds. Most passerines are omnivorous, while the shrikes are carnivorous.
The terms "passerine" and "Passeriformes" are derived from the scientific name of the house sparrow, Passer domesticus, and ultimately from the Latin term passer, which refers to sparrows and similar small birds.The Display
The Display is an Australian ballet produced and choreographed by Robert Helpmann to music by Malcolm Williamson for The Australian Ballet. Described as the first wholly Australian ballet, The Display had an all-Australian cast, with sets and costumes by artist Sidney Nolan. The work had its world premiere on 14 March 1964 at Her Majesty's Theatre in Adelaide as part of the Adelaide Festival of Arts.The Life of Birds
The Life of Birds is a BBC nature documentary series written and presented by David Attenborough, first transmitted in the United Kingdom from 21 October 1998.
A study of the evolution and habits of birds, it was the third of Attenborough's specialised surveys following his major trilogy that began with Life on Earth. Each of the ten 50-minute episodes discusses how the huge variety of birds in the world deal with a different aspect of their day-to-day existence.
The series was produced in conjunction with BBC Worldwide Americas Inc. and PBS. The executive producer was Mike Salisbury and the music was composed by Ian Butcher and Steven Faux. It won a Peabody Award in 1999 for combining "spectacular imagery and impeccable science."Part of Attenborough's 'Life' series of programmes, it was preceded by The Private Life of Plants (1995), and followed by The Life of Mammals (2002). Before the latter was transmitted, David Attenborough presented State of the Planet (2000) and narrated The Blue Planet (2001).The Literature of Australian Birds
The Literature of Australian Birds is a book published in 1954 by Paterson Brokensha in Perth, Western Australia. Its full title is The Literature of Australian Birds: A History and a Bibliography of Australian Ornithology. It was authored by Hubert Massey Whittell. It is in large octavo format (252 x 184 mm) and contains some 900 pages, two separately paginated parts bound in one volume in brown buckram. It contains a coloured frontispiece (Plate 1) of a drawing of the superb lyrebird by Lieutenant-General Thomas Davies from 1799, with another 31 black-and-white plates bound between Parts 1 and 2.
Part 1, titled “A History of Australian Ornithology 1618 to 1850”, is 116 pages in length. It covers the period from the exploratory Dutch voyages of the early 17th century to the voyages of HMS Fly and HMS Rattlesnake during 1842-1850. Much the larger part of the book, however, lies in the 788 pages of Part 2, titled “A Bibliography of Australian Ornithology 1618 to 1950, with Biographies of Authors, Collectors and Others”, where Whittell has attempted to be exhaustively comprehensive in compiling mentions of Australian birds, not only from the scientific literature but also from newspapers, magazines and other published sources, and including potted biographies of their authors. The two parts of the book are dedicated separately, Part 1: "To D.L.S. in Appreciation of our long Association in Australian Ornithology", and Part 2: "In Memoriam. GREGORY MACALISTER MATHEWS C.B.E.. A Pioneer Bibliographer of the Literature of Australian Birds. OBIT 1947."A facsimile edition was published by Oak Knoll Press in 1993 (ISBN 1888262680). In 1995 the Bird Observers Club of Australia (BOCA) published BOCA Report Number 6 – “Whittell (1618-1950) Supplemented. Additions and Emendations to H.M. Whittell’s The Literature of Australian Birds”, compiled by Tess Kloot. In the preface to this latter work Kloot comments, with regard to Whittell:
”In his monumental work, The Literature of Australian Birds, (Paterson Brokensha Pty Ltd, 1954), the late Major H. M. Whittell paid tribute to those who went before him : In 1925 Gregory M. Mathews issued, as a supplement to his Birds of Australia, a bibliography of books and articles studied in the preparation of his work, plus brief biographical notes on the authors; and in 1935 Anthony Musgrave published his Bibliography of Australian Entomology 1775-1930. In turn, I can do no better than pay tribute to Major Whittell. With his book constantly before me as I worked, I never ceased to wonder at his exhaustive research and meticulous attention to detail. It is indeed a remarkable achievement. I offer this modest contribution (and later, A Bio-bibliography of Australian Ornithology: 1951-1975) in the hope that others who come after me will build upon my work.”Thick-billed raven
The thick-billed raven (Corvus crassirostris), a corvid from the Horn of Africa, shares with the common raven the distinction of being the largest bird in the corvid family, and indeed the largest of the most diverse bird order with well over 5,000 identified species, the passerines. The thick-billed raven average 64 cm (25 in) in length, with a range of 60 to 70 cm (24 to 28 in) and weighs approximately 1.15 kg (2.5 lb) in females and 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) in males on average. Its size is about the same as the largest races of common raven (i.e. those from the Himalayas and Greenland/Canadian Northwest Atlantic) but some common raven subspecies are rather smaller and, going on average weights, the thick-billed raven is likely the heaviest extant passerine. The thick-billed raven is about 25% heavier on average than the Australasian superb lyrebird, which is sometimes erroneously titled the largest passerine.It has a very large bill that is laterally compressed and is deeply curved in profile giving the bird a very distinctive appearance. This bill, the largest of any passerine at 8–9 cm (3.1–3.5 in) in length, is black with a white tip and has deep nasal grooves with only light nasal bristle covers. This raven has very short feathers on the head, throat and neck. The throat and upper breast have an oily brown gloss, while the rest of the bird is glossy black except for a distinctive white patch of feathers on the nape and onto the neck.Thomas Davies (British Army officer)
Thomas Davies FRS FLS (c. 1737 – 16 March 1812) was a British Army officer, artist, and naturalist.
He was born c. 1737 in Shooter's Hill (London), England and died 16 March 1812 in Blackheath (London). He rose to the rank of Lieutenant-general in the Royal Artillery. He studied drawing and recorded military operations in water-colours during several military campaigns in North America. He later became a noted artist and naturalist. He was the first to illustrate and describe the superb lyrebird.
His work was not well known until after a 1953 auction from the Earl of Derby's library. His paintings were later shown as part of a major exhibition, 2 July – 4 September 1972, at the National Gallery of Canada.