When it comes to the abilities of animals which I am jealous of/covet, the list is super long. They’ve got all kinds of sweet powers. Mankind…big deal! Besides our abilities to cast shadow puppets and our capacity to create sandwiches, being a human is rubbish–with our doughy flesh that goose-pimples in the slightest of breezes and our stumpy molars that can barely crack celery! We’re not nearly as hard-core as we think we are. There isn’t a race (besides maybe a motor one) that an animal couldn’t completely humiliate us in…running, swimming, slithering…hopping…eating offspring…beasts will best us 80% of the time all the time. That’s why the superheroes of dynamic fiction are often inspired by nature–a man with spider abilities or that of a hawk, for instance. I’d love to have a prehensile tail of a monkey, the razor-sharp teeth of a piranha, the outstanding night vision of an aye-aye, the flight of a swift, the camouflage of a chameleon, the healing horn of a unicorn, and the ability to breathe under water of a fish. Only one of those animals if fictional. Can you believe it! A horse with a magic horn seems far more likely to exist than a lizard that can change colors! Isn’t the world weird? It sure is.
Anyway, today’s great thing is an animal that is truly remarkable and has a super useful talent…which is probably why it is on the Australian dime. Take that, Franklin D. Roosevelt!
160. The Lyrebird
…of which there are two types, The Superb Lyrebird and Albert’s Lyrebird. Both are equally awesome as far as I can tell. The main difference is that the Superb Lyrebird is bigger, whilst the Albert’s Lyrebird has an interesting piercing.
Like so many weird and fascinating creatures who have seemingly taken a divergent path from straight-forward evolution…the kangaroo, the duck-billed platypus, Kylie Minogue…the lyrebird is from Australia
The birds don’t fly very well…they scratch at the ground with their feet to kick up leaves where they find worms, bugs, and seeds to eat. Don’t be hating, I’m sure it’s delicious. They are runners more than flyers, lovers rather than fighters, band geeks more than football jocks. The special thing about the lyrebird is that their courtship displays are crazy amazing. They put sooooo much effort into it. It’s half karaoke and half choreography…but their vocal impressions are absolutely mind-blowing. Have a look-see:
What a stunning display, yes? How can one animal make all those different noises when I can’t even do a half decent British accent after living here for five years? Gor Blimey! It all comes down to the syrinx, which is a bird’s vocal instrument. The word comes from the Greek for pan pipes. Of all the Passerines (songbirds) in the world, the lyrebird has the most complex. Still, what’s a syrinx and how does it work? How does the lyrebird make its magic? It’s a good question…in this case posed by an inquisitive beatboxer…and answered by a kindly scholar: Answers
The thing is, they’re not just one-trick ponies, so to speak. Beyond the mimicry, the birds are also accomplished hoofers. Their courtship displays can be quite the marathon of tail-fanning and hot-stepping. (The tail feathers, by the way, take seven full years to develop.) They’re also sort of slutty. Well, man-hos at least. The male of the species will impregnate as many females as they possibly can. (This should be relatively easy as I don’t know how anyone could resist all the feather-swishing and chainsaw noises.) The females are always left as the sole parent of the single egg. All this behavior, the singing, dancing, preening, sleeping around and then taking off when things get heavy, pretty much makes the lyrebird the rockstar of the animal kingdom. I think Albert’s Lyrebird should be renamed Brett Michael’s Lyrebird.
A group of lyrebirds is called a ‘musket’. I can only figure that this is because they are as exciting as a bunch of guns going off. They are beaked dynamite!
There is an interesting anecdote about human interaction with lyrebirds that I found on a few different websites and feel compelled to share. This text is lifted from Avian Web, which in turn is sourced from: The Lore of the Lyrebird, by Ambrose Pratt, the Endeavour Press, 1933. It involves food offerings, dirt mounds, and a hydraulic ram…
During the early 1930s, a male lyrebird, called “James”, formed a close bond of friendship with a human being, Mrs. Wilkinson, after she had been offering food to him over a period of time. James would perform his courtship dance for her on one of his mounds which he had constructed in her backyard — and he would also put on his display for a wider audience, but only when Mrs. Wilkinson was one of those present. On one such occasion, James’ performance lasted for forty-three minutes, and included steps to a courtship dance accompanied by his own tune — and also included imitating perfectly the calls of an Australian Magpie, and a young magpie being fed by a parent-bird, a Eastern Whipbird, a Bellbird, a complete laughing-song of a Kookaburra, two Kookaburras laughing in unison, a Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo, a Gang-gang Cockatoo, an Eastern Rosella, a Pied Butcherbird, a Wattle-bird, a Grey Shrike-thrush, a Thornbill, a White-browed Scrubwren, a Striated Pardalote, a Starling, a Yellow Robin, a Golden Whistler, a flock of parrots whistling in flight, the Crimson Rosella, several other birds whose notes his audience were not able to identify, and the song of honey-eaters (tiny birds with tiny voices), that gather in numbers and “cheep” and twitter in a multitudinous sweet whispering. In order to mimic the honeyeaters’ singing faithfully, James was obliged to subdue his powerful voice to the faintest pianissimo, but he contrived, nevertheless, to make each individual note of the soft chorus audibly distinct. Also included in James’ performance was his perfect mimicry of the sounds made by a rock-crusher at work, a hydraulic ram, and the tooting of motor-horns.
I just want to say…whilst in absolutely NO way condoning bestiality…I sort of hope that James the lyrebird got at least to second base after that.