The lyrebird is the show-off of the animal kingdom. In human terms, it's the uncle who insists on dancing at a wedding and the friend who hogs the microphone at a karaoke evening. But now it is evolving a new and terrible habit which makes the rest of its actions pale into insignificance.
|Shake your tail feather...|
The tail that gives the bird its name is, surprise surprise, part of the armoury of the amorous male. He makes a big song-and-dance of spreading his tail as the highlight of an elaborate courting ritual. He has 16 tail feathers in total, which fan out in the shape of a lyre (the musical instrument of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus).
He will scrabble and brush debris together to build a raised piece of ground on which to perform - a stage worthy of his beautiful plumage. (Otherwise the lyre bird is an innocuous sort of bird to look at, the size of a chicken and a dull grey-brown in colour).
Any other remarkable features
Oh yes, we haven't even started! The lyrebird finds it hard to keep quiet, and is reckoned to have the loudest bird call in the world. (Loudness is birds is another mating technique, but is also useful in creating an impression of size and strength. You may have noticed the technique used by young men trying to chat up birds of the non-feathered variety...).
Hold on, there's more. The tail, the volume, all are just hors d'oeuvres before the most interesting thing about the lyrebird. For this jack-of--all-trades is also the best mimic of the bird world. To misquote Leonard Cohen, 'This bird, called the lyre [is] like a drunk in some midnight choir'.
Starlings have been spotted imitating sheep, which is pretty clever. But the lyre bird goes one better and, in addition to a variety of bird calls, does a fair take-off of man-made sounds too.
The lyrebird has been heard to mimic the car engine of the tourist, the chainsaw of the logger and the camera shutter of the twitcher. Cute. But latest reports indicate a new and worrying trend (worrying for those of us head for the countryside to escape the incessant din of modern urban living). It's as if Busby, the infamous character in the British Telecom ads, has really come to life.
In a development that would have Charles Darwin rubbing but hands while covering his ears, the lyrebird has started to mimic the mobile phone!
Where do I avoid this monstrous beastie
The lyrebird is native to Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales (its aboriginal name is Weringerong) where it makes a home deep in the eucalyptus forest. Though now a protected species, that same forest is home to loggers, hikers and other mobile phone users too -- hence this latest trend.
Funny you should say that. There are two forms of lyrebird, the common (or Albert's) lyre bird and the wonderfully named superb lyrebird. Just see if you say that the next time you're drifting off to sleep in a forest in New South Wales and someone's phone goes off...