The Lyrebird

(Menura novaehollandiae and Menura alberti).

Also called the Lyretail or Native Pheasant, two species of the Lyrebird are found in Australia. The most common is the Superb Lyrebird with the scientific name Menura novaehollandiae derived from the Greek terms 'Menura' meaning might and 'oura' meaning tail plus the Latin term 'novaehollandiae meaning of New Holland. The second species, Albert's Lyrebird (Menura alberti) is much rarer. It's scientific name is derived from Albert, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria.

Superb Lyrebird's are found in the moist forests along coastal eastern Australia, from near Stanthorpe in Queensland to as far south as Melbourne in Victoria. It has also been introduced in Tasmania. Albert's Lyrebird is restricted to the mountain ranges of the extreme south-eastern corner of Queensland and north-eastern tip of New South Wales.
Lyrebirds are usually seen singly, occasionally in pairs or small parties, inhabiting rugged forest country and brushes. They are remarkably competent mimics, able to imitate most of the calls of the other species in their locality, as well as some sounds produced by humans. It is not unusual for a male lyrebird to imitate the calls of as many as 15 species of birds.
Lyrebirds have several powerful calls of their own, the chief of which is a resounding 'choo-choo-choo'. The female is also a talented mimic, but less vocal than the male.

Lyrebirds, especially males, are generally shy and are more often heard than seen. The male builds a display mound - a low hillock about a metre across - which he rakes up in soft soil. He normally makes a series of these mounds and visits them in turn, stopping at each to sing and display.

A male in display is a magnificent spectacle, and it is then that the observer sees his picturesque tail to advantage. The tail is spread like an opened fan over his back and head, thus showing the underside of the lyrate feathers and the silvery filamentary plumes.

The 'lyre' is formed from the ornate tail which is 75 cm long. There are two ribbon-shaped outer feathers forming the frame of the lyre, with two black wire-like feathers and 12 silvery filamentary feathers between them.

Nest-building, incubating the egg, and rearing the nestling are performed entirely by the female. During the day lyrebirds spend most of the time on the ground sifting through fallen leaves and debris, or tearing decaying logs to pieces in search of food, which consists of insects, worms, and small land molluscs. At night the birds roost in trees.

The nest is a bulky structure, with an entrance at the side, composed outwardly of sticks, twigs, dried fern-leaves, and mosses, with an inner wall neatly made of wiry rootlets and bark-fibre lined with downy feathers from the flanks of the bird. It is usually built on a ledge of rock, in a cavity on top of a tall stump, or at the base of a tree, although occasionally it may be located high in a large tree-fork.

One egg is produced which may vary in colour from light stone-grey to deep purplish-brown, with streaks and spots of deep slaty-grey and blackish-brown distributed over the surface. The breeding season is from May to September. In most instances the egg is laid in June or July (mid-winter), hatching in about six weeks. The young bird remains in the nest for a further six weeks.

Albert's Lyrebird (Menura alberti), a solitary and shy bird frequenting dense rain-forests, is extremely difficult to see. Small and more rufous in colour, this species has a much less spectacular tail than its close relative the Superb Lyrebird. It also, is an accomplished songster and mimic, often constructing a display platform of trampled vines or displaying on the ground or on fallen logs, similar in general habits to its close relative.

The nest is similar to that of the Superb Lyrebird, but the downy feathers, used for lining, are plucked from the bird's own plumage and are thus rufous tinted instead of the larger bird's greyish feathers. The sites chiefly used are rock-ledges, but nests have also been found on the tops of tree-stumps and between the buttressed roots of jungle trees.

A single egg, similar to that of the Superb Lyrebird is produced in the breeding season between June and September (mainly June-July).

Sources:
Neville W. Cayley's 'What Bird is That' - 1931.
How Birds Live, Robert Burton, 1977.
Australia's Wilderness Heritage - Flora & Fauna, 1988.


The Lyrebyrd is featured on the following Australian coins:

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