Menuridae – Lyrebirds

Superb Lyrbird Menura novaehollandiae ©Ian Montgomery Website

There are two species of Lyrebird; ground-dwelling Australian birds, that form the genus, Menura, and the family Menuridae. They are most notable for their superb ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from their environment. Lyrebirds have unique plumes of neutral coloured tail feathers.

Lyrebirds are among Australia’s best-known native birds. As well as their extraordinary mimicking ability, lyrebirds are notable because of the striking beauty of the male bird’s huge tail when it is fanned out in display; and also because of their courtship display.

It is generally accepted that the lyrebird family is most closely related to the scrub-birds (Atrichornithidae) and some authorities combine both in a single family, but evidence that they are also related to the bowerbirds remains controversial.

The superb lyrebird is found in areas of rainforest in Victoria, New South Wales and south-east Queensland, as well as in Tasmania where it was introduced in the 19th century. Many superb lyrebirds live in the Dandenong Ranges National Park and Kinglake National Park around Melbourne, the Royal National Park and Illawarra region south of Sydney and in many other parks along the east coast of Australia as well as non protected bushland. Albert’s lyrebird is found in only a very small area of Southern Queensland rainforest.

Lyrebirds are shy and difficult to approach, particularly the Albert’s lyrebird, which means that there is little information about its behaviour. When lyrebirds detect potential danger they will pause and scan their surroundings, then give an alarm call. Having done so, they will either flee the vicinity on foot, or seek cover and freeze. Also, firefighters sheltering in mine shafts during bushfires have been joined by lyrebirds.

Lyrebirds feed on the ground and as individuals. A range of invertebrate prey is taken, including insects such as cockroaches, beetles (both adults and larvae), earwigs, fly larvae, and the adults and larvae of moths. Other prey taken includes centipedes, spiders, earthworms. Less commonly taken prey includes stick insects, beetles, amphipods, lizards, frogs and occasionally, seeds. They find food by scratching with their feet through the leaf-litter.

The breeding cycle of the lyrebirds is long, and lyrebirds are long-lived birds, capable of living up to thirty years. They also start breeding later in life than other passerine birds. Female superb lyrebirds start breeding at the age of five or six, and males at the age of six to eight. Males defend territories from other males, and these territories may contain the breeding territories of up to eight females. Within the male territories, the males create or use display platforms; in the case of the superb lyrebird, it is a mound of bare soil; in the Albert’s lyrebird it is simply a pile of twigs on the forest floor.

Male lyrebirds call mostly during winter, when they construct and maintain an open arena-mound in dense bush, on which they sing and dance in courtship, to display to potential mates, of which the male lyrebird has several. The female builds an untidy nest, usually low to the ground in a moist gully, where she lays a single egg. She is the sole parent who incubates the egg over 50 days until it hatches, and she is also the sole carer of the lyrebird chick.

A lyrebird’s song is one of the more distinctive aspects of its behavioural 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 seven elements of its own song and any number of other mimicked songs and noises. They are incredible mimics and when close to habitation they have incorporated all sorts of sounds from the human world such as chain-saws, crying babies, car alarms, rifle fire and even mobile phones!

The 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. The superb lyrebird is the larger of the two species. Females are 74cm–84cm long, and the males are a larger 80cm–98cm long—making them the third-largest passerine bird after the thick-billed raven and the common raven. Albert’s lyrebird is slightly smaller at a maximum of 90cm (male) and 84cm (female). They have smaller, less spectacular lyrate feathers than the superb lyrebird, but are otherwise similar.

Species List

There are just two species of lyrebird; they are:

Albert’s Lyrebird Menura alberti
Superb Lyrebird Menura novaehollandiae

Species Links
  • Albert's Lyrebird Menura alberti

    Queensland Government species profile. The Albert's lyrebird is mostly confined to rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests with mesic understorey usually over 300 m above sea level. The range of the Albert's lyrebird has contracted dramatically with records now restricted to the mountain ranges in the vicinity of far south-east Queensland and far north-east New South Wales...
  • Superb Lyrebird Menura superba

    Species Account
    The Superb Lyrebird (Menura superba) is chicken-sized and rather nondescript, but males have a unique tail containing three types of feathers, which in certain positions resembles a lyre. The outermost feathers are broad and curled, enclosing a dozen filamentous, gauze-like feathers and two very long, tapered, and curled plumes totaling 16 feathers. Females have a long tail, but they barely show signs of the developments found in males. Lyrebirds feed on insects, myriapods and snails…
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 2

Photographers & Artists
  • Albert's Lyrebird Menura alberti

    U-Tube video of feeding Alberts Lyrebird...
  • Superb Lyrebird Menura superba

    Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) in the bush near the Fitzroy Falls Morton National Park Southern Highlands of New South Wales Australia October 2012...
  • Superb Lyrebird Menura superba

    You-Tube footage of feeding lyrebird...

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