Clip of the Week – superb lyrebird courting female

Camera trap video of a male superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) courting female on display mound.

This clip was filmed by David Gallan in Australia, in July.

The superb lyrebird

The superb lyrebird is an Australian songbird, and one of the world’s largest songbirds, with males growing to 1 metre in length. It is renowned for its elaborate tail and impressive courtship displays, and Sir David Attenborough claims it has the most sophisticated vocal skills in the animal kingdom. The birds can also imitate anthopogenic sounds, such as chainsaws and car alarms.

When a male encounters a female lyrebird, he performs an elaborate courtship display incorporating both song and dance on the nearest mound. The male fans out his tail horizontally to cover his body and head. The tail feathers are vibrated, and the lyrebird beats his wings against his body and parades around the mound. He also sings loudly, combining his own vocalisations with mimicry of other bird calls. A scientific study has found evidence that the lyrebirds’ dance is highly choreographed to different types of song repertoire. Coordination of movement with acoustic signals is a trait indicating high cognitive ability.

David commented:

“I recorded the lyrebirds with a Reconyx Ultrafire camera on our forested property. Many people have recorded male superb lyrebirds performing on their display mound but often the clips are shaky or poorly lit. Hardly any of these clips have recorded the female’s entry on to the mound. I thought for years that mating took place elsewhere as none was recorded until two years ago when mating took place on two different occasions on the mound.

The Australian Museum informs me that currently, to their knowledge, I am the only one to have recorded mating.  The lyrebird can perform for several minutes at a time with their famed ability to mimic other bird songs and mechanical sounds.

There is research to show that lyrebirds contribute to bushfire mitigation through turning over leaf litter and keeping the forest floor moist. Interestingly this lyrebird mound was stripped of vegetation during the 2018 Tathra bushfire. Since then the surrounds have regrown with great vigour but the lyrebirds have moved on to other freshly created mounds close by.”