Lyrebird: What’s in a Name

music
ambience: Lyrebird bird calls

There is a harp-like instrument called a lyre. And you’d think if a bird was named after it, the choice would have something to do with the bird’s mellifluous voice. Well, not quite. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Australia’s lyrebird was named more for its looks than its lyrical sounds. Walter Boles is a Collection Manager of birds at the Australian Museum

“The name lyre bird comes from the tail of the adult male. The outer tail feathers tend to bend around in various ways, and there’s the center tail feathers sort of fill out the picture. But the whole tail together when spread looks like the old instrument, a lyre. So it has the shape; and some of the intertail feathers look like the strings.”

While the Lyrebird’s tail may look like an instrument, its song isn’t necessarily musical. In fact, it’s just a regurgitation of what the bird hears around it.

“Lyre birds are noted as one of the supreme bird mimics of the world. So they have a few of their own calls, various odd notes and particularly a loud shriek they make if they’re suddenly startled; but they are also able to mimic a whole range of other birds. So you can often tell you’re listening to a lyre bird when you get several seconds of a cockatoo, followed by several seconds of a bower bird, followed by several seconds of something like a curawol.”

But Lyre birds don’t just confine themselves to mimicking other birds.

“There are certainly many reports of them imitating dogs, and chainsaws, and whistles and certain car noises — things that they hear in the local area.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

music

Lyrebird: What's in a Name

What has tail feathers that resemble an ancient musical instrument and vast vocal repertoire?
Air Date:11/04/2002
Scientist:
Transcript:


music
ambience: Lyrebird bird calls

There is a harp-like instrument called a lyre. And you'd think if a bird was named after it, the choice would have something to do with the bird's mellifluous voice. Well, not quite. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Australia's lyrebird was named more for its looks than its lyrical sounds. Walter Boles is a Collection Manager of birds at the Australian Museum

"The name lyre bird comes from the tail of the adult male. The outer tail feathers tend to bend around in various ways, and there’s the center tail feathers sort of fill out the picture. But the whole tail together when spread looks like the old instrument, a lyre. So it has the shape; and some of the intertail feathers look like the strings."

While the Lyrebird's tail may look like an instrument, its song isn't necessarily musical. In fact, it's just a regurgitation of what the bird hears around it.

"Lyre birds are noted as one of the supreme bird mimics of the world. So they have a few of their own calls, various odd notes and particularly a loud shriek they make if they’re suddenly startled; but they are also able to mimic a whole range of other birds. So you can often tell you’re listening to a lyre bird when you get several seconds of a cockatoo, followed by several seconds of a bower bird, followed by several seconds of something like a curawol."

But Lyre birds don't just confine themselves to mimicking other birds.

"There are certainly many reports of them imitating dogs, and chainsaws, and whistles and certain car noises -- things that they hear in the local area."

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music