Return to Lyrebird (thing)
Despite the large and ornamental tail on adult male birds, Lyrebirds are not most noticed for their appearance. They are fairly reclusive birds that live in thick forest, usually in areas well away from population centers, although I have seen them a few times when walking quietly on small trails in the Blue Mountains.
They are quite common, however, and this can be very apparent when walking along ridgetops in many places in the Great Dividing Range. You'll hear maybe a magpie calling, down in the valley. Then a kookaburra. Then a bell bird. Then a whip bird. A few gutteral cockatoo squawks. All very loud, very clear, acoustically perfect, highly amplified, which is a bit odd, and you can't see any birds in the treetops either. Then comes the giveaway, a rythmic CLUNK-a-CLUNK-a-CLUNK-a.
The culprit for the noise pollution is a male Superb Lyrebird, practising his courtship dance in a six-foot wide patch of open soil he keeps meticulously clear of leaves. He tosses his tail up and over his body, so they mist of fine white feathers droops over him like a veil. He hops around rythmically, shaking the tail feathers, always hiding behind them from any females around. This is extremely rarely seen, of course, although there is some great footage out there - one place I can think of offhand would be David Attenborough's The Life of Birds.
The most astonishing attribute of this species is their ability to perfectly replicate any sound played to them a few times. It's not a harsh immitation of a few syllables, like a talking parrot, instead it has all the fidelity of an analogue master tape. They have beautifully loud, clear, liquid voices, able to replicate the complicated songs of magpies and currawongs, and can also immitate strange, harsh and even completely unnatural sounds. One very comical, if slightly disturbing, segment in the Life of Birds shows a lyrebird demonstrating a perfect redition of an automatic camera winding on, a car alarm, and an axe chopping wood. Any sound repeated in their evironment more than a few times will be picked up, as the males compete to see who can have the most complex and accurate calls.
They are rarely kept in captivity, but one has to wonder at their potential. How many minutes of music can a male lyrebird memorise? There's a challenge for Australian noders.