Superb & Albert's Lyrebird What is a Lyrebird?

Photo: Lyrebird singing

The lyrebird is a ground-dwelling pheasant-sized songbird found in moist forest areas of south-eastern Australia. It gets its name from the spectacular shape of its tail feathers, which resemble the ancient Greek harp called a “lyre”.

The most outstanding characteristic of this bird is its phenomenal art of mimicry. It can imitate almost any sound it hears. This includes the sound of camera shutters, car alarms, ringtones, car engines, crying babies, even human voices and lots more.


Lyrebird - Description What Do Lyrebirds Look Like?

Photo: Lyrebird with plumage extended

The lyrebird is a large passerine bird (roosting bird with feet designed for grasping branches). It has large eyes, a pointed beak, a longish neck, and strong legs with large feet with which it digs up forest floor litter and runs swiftly when required. It is capable of limited flight but seldom does. It only flies gain access to a low lying branch on which to roost.

There are two types of lyrebirds - the Superb lyrebird and Albert's lyrebird.

The superb lyrebird is the larger of the two species, with the male measuring 80-100 cm in length. Its tail makes up more than half of this length. He has light brown wings and a greyish-brown head and lower body with red-brown markings on his throat. The male lyrebird’s tail has sixteen feathers. The two outer tail feathers are patterned dark and light brown and form a lyre shape when extended. The inner feathers are like lacy filigree quills of silver to light brown colour. The female is smaller than the male, measuring 74–84 cm in length and is similar to the male. The key difference is that it does not have a lyre-shaped tail. The Albert’s lyrebird is about 10% smaller than the superb lyrebird. It is less spectacular all around, even lacking the outer lyre-shaped tail feathers of the superb lyrebird.

25 Lyrebird Facts

  1. The lyrebird is a shy, well camouflaged ground-dwelling bird.
  2. It lives in moist rainforest areas of south-eastern Australia.
  3. It is a large passerine bird with large feet for digging.
  4. The lyrebird is an outstanding mimic.
  5. It can reproduce almost any sound it hears.
  6. These include camera shutters, car alarms, ringtones, car engines, crying babies, human voices, etc.
  7. 80% of its songs are cut and paste sounds it has picked up from its environment.
  8. Its song repertoire is meant to impress female lyrebirds.
  9. It is the largest singing bird in the world.
  10. There are two types of lyrebirds - the Superb and Albert's lyrebirds.
  1. The superb lyrebird is the larger of the two species.
  2. The lyrebird is named after the shape of its tail, which looks like an ancient Greek harp called a “lyre”.
  3. A lyrebird can fly but seldom does.
  4. It usually flies only to reach low branches where they roost for the night.
  5. It can run swiftly when required.
  6. It uses its large feet to claw aside leaf litter to find insects, small invertebrates, snails, millipedes and centipedes.
  7. Occasionally they eat seeds too.
  8. During the breeding season, the male lyrebird builds a small mound.
  9. He stands on this mound, displays his lyre-shaped tail feathers over his head and sings and dances to attract a female.
  10. Each male usually mates with several females.
  11. There no serious native predators of adult lyrebirds.
  12. Chicks however, fall victim to native monitor lizards, snakes and wedge-tailed eagles.
  13. Land clearing and forest felling by humans are the biggest threat to these birds.
  14. The superb lyrebird is not considered endangered, but the Albert's lyrebird is deemed to be vulnerable.
  15. A lyrebird can live for up to thirty years.

Lyrebird – World's Greatest Mimic Listen to Lyrebird Sing

Video: Listen to lyrebird sing

With the most astonishing repertoire of songs, the lyrebird is the largest singing bird in the world.

During mating season, the male lyrebird combines its own songs with an extraordinary array of other natural and artificial sounds from its environment to create a cacophony of complex sounds to attract a female.

It is believed that up to 80% of its songs are cut and pastes of sounds from its environment. This bird's mimicry is so accurate that it can even fool the animal that it is imitating. Some of the sounds it may make may include an excellent rendition of a kookaburra’s call, the sound of chainsaws, camera shutters, car alarms and ringtones, car engines, crying babies and even human voices. Females sing occasionally, but not with the same bravado as the males.


Lyrebird - Habitat Where Do Lyrebirds Live?

The lyrebird lives in moist forest areas of south-eastern Australia from south-east Queensland, through New South Wales and into Victoria east of the Great Dividing Range of mountains.

Photo: Lyrebird in forest

Photo: Lyrebird distribution map

It is also found in Tasmania, where it was introduced in the 19th century. Albert’s lyrebird is only found in small pockets of forest in southern Queensland.

The lyrebird is a shy, solitary ground-dwelling bird that is well camouflaged in its environment. One is unlikely to see one except as a fleeting blur as it runs for cover if spotted.

It prefers a habitat with moist forest floors and leaf litter in which it rummages for food. It uses low branches to roost in at night.


Lyrebird - Diet What Does a Lyrebird Eat?

Photo: Lyrebird digging for food

Lyrebirds feed mainly on ground insects such as worms, spiders, snails, millipedes, and centipedes. They use their large feet to claw aside leaf litter to reveal hiding prey, which they deftly pick off with their sharp pointy beaks. Occasionally they eat seeds too.


Lyrebird - Reproduction & Life Cycle Lyrebird Babies

During the breeding season, between May to August, the male lyrebird busies himself by first building a stage from which to sing his love songs.

Photo: Lyrebird courtship dancing

He clears a patch on the forest floor and builds a small mound on which to stand so he can be better seen and heard by possible mates. He then spreads out his magnificent lyre-shaped tail feathers and displays them over his head as he sings and dances to attract a female.

Each male usually mates with several females. After mating, the male takes no further interest in the female. She makes a dome-shaped nest of sticks, bark, and leaves in a well-hidden location. There she lays a single blotchy brown egg, which she incubates for about 42 days. While incubating, she may leave her nest unattended for between 3 to 6 hours to search for food. The chick stays with its mother for between 6 t o10 weeks before becoming fully independent.

For the first three to four years of their lives, young male lyrebirds are rather plain like the females and lack the fancy plumage of an adult male. Until they acquire their plumage, they are referred to as 'plain-tails'. Lyrebirds live for upto 30 years.


Lyrebird - Predators & Threats What Treats Do Lyrebirds Face?

lyrebird in scrub

Photo: Lyrebird on branch

There no serious native predators of adult lyrebirds. Chicks however, fall victim to native monitor lizards, snakes and wedge-tailed eagles.

Land clearing and forest felling by humans are the biggest threat to these birds. The Albert's lyrebird is the most impacted by human activity.

Several introduced animals such as dingoes, foxes, feral cats, and dogs are known to attack lyrebirds.


Lyrebird - Conservation Status

The superb lyrebird is not considered to be endangered.

The Albert's lyrebird, however, with its very limited habitat, is deemed to be vulnerable.