Lyrebirds are most notable for their superb ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from their environment. Lyrebirds are large passerine birds, amongst the largest in the order. They are ground living birds with strong legs and feet and short rounded wings. They are generally poor fliers and rarely take to the air except for periods of downhill gliding.
Lyrebirds are shy and difficult to approach, particularly the Albert’s lyrebird, with the result that little information about its behavior has been documented. When lyrebirds detect potential danger, they pause and scan the surroundings, sound an alarm, and either flee the area on foot, or seek cover and freeze. Firefighters sheltering in mine shafts during bushfires have been joined by lyrebirds.
A lyrebird’s song is one of the more distinctive aspects of its behavioral biology. Lyrebirds sing throughout the year, but the peak of the breeding season, from June to August, is when they sing with the most intensity. During this peak they may sing for four hours of the day, almost half the hours of daylight. The song of the superb lyrebird is a mixture of elements of its own song and any number of other mimicked songs and noises.
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. One witness suggested that the song represents a modified version of two popular tunes in the 1930s: “The Keel Row” and “Mosquito’s Dance”.
What took place here was that the lyrebird released in the 1930s has been teaching other wild lyrebirds the songs it learned in captivity through generations. Now, that is a legacy.