The lyrebird is a remarkable and ancient species which is unique to Australia. It has become one of the nation’s iconic species with its image appearing in our currency (ten cent coin, one hundred dollar note) and in many other places.
There are two species of Lyrebird, named for the resemblance of their tail to an ancient musical instrument. Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) which is found in southern Qld, Victoria, NSW and was introduced into Tasmania; and the Albert’s Lyrebird (Menura alberti) which was named in honour of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. It is smaller and more reddish than the Superb and is only found very small isolated pockets of upland rainforest in north east NSW and South East Qld, including Tamborine Mountain.
Alberts lyrebird are relatively large birds with males about 80–90 cms and females 74-84 cms. They are reddish brown and the male has a long filamentary tail of brown and silver feathers while the female has a plain reddish brown tail. They are shy, elusive, ground foragers and use their powerful feet to rake the forest floor for insects, invertebrates and plant material. Although they are poor flyers they tend to roost in trees overnight then volplane down to the ground in the morning.
The breeding season is May to August. The male builds vine platforms and calls to advertise his presence to females and when a female appears he dances with his silver tail shimmering over his back and head. After mating, the female takes on the role of sole parent – she builds a domed nest usually on the ground, lays a single egg, incubates it for about 50 days, feeds the nestling for 6 to 10 weeks then looks after the juvenile for up to 8 months.
The call of the Lyrebird can be described in three parts - the territorial call, which is a beautiful pure call; mimicry, mainly of other bird species; and a harsher bark-like call known as gronking.
Each population of Lyrebird has a slightly different sequencing of calls and mimicry and like humpback whales they seem to learn their calls through cultural transmission.
For example, the descendants of the Victorian Lyrebirds which were relocated to Tasmania, still mimic the calls of Victorian birds.
And another population of Lyrebirds mimicked the sound of a flute playing because fifty years previously, a pet lyrebird which copied the flute playing of his captors, was released. The flute calls were analysed and identified as versions of two popular tunes of the thirties.
The Albert Lyrebird is classified as very vulnerable and there are relatively small populations in very restricted areas, so our local population is globally significant. It is important to monitor their numbers and Tamborine Mountain Natural History Association does this every year by conducting a lyrebird survey. People can assist in the field survey or they can participate in the survey by completing observation forms which can be emailed on request.