Superb Lyrebird

Lyrebirds in the Bend of Islands

The Superb Lyrebird Menura novaehollandiae is one of Australia’s more unusual birds with its spectacular tail, its amazing mimicry and the beautiful courtship displays of the male. It is wonderful to have them re-establishing a presence in the Environmental Living Zone (ELZ).

Here is a brief rundown of the main aspects of the species.

Male up to 100 cm (including 60 cm tail), female 86 cm.

Body is dull brown above and grey below, with dull rufous patches on throat and wings. Juveniles are more rufous but this fades with age. Dark grey legs and feet are powerful.

The male’s tail is 60 cm long and usually carried horizontally as a ‘train’. It consists of 16 feathers of three different types. The outer feather on each side is a broad lyrate plume, brown with pale notches on top but silvery with chestnut notches and black club-like ends on the underside. The two central feathers are long fine ribbon-like “guard-plumes”. These and the 12 filamentary feathers are brown on top and silvery-white on the underside. The dark top provides effective camouflage under normal conditions and the bright underside creates a spectacular effect when the bird inverts the tail in a fan above its head during display.
The tail feathers moult in late spring when the bird becomes ‘tail-less’. The new tail grows over a 12-week period.
The female’s tail, shorter than the males, consists of brown feathers that are plain and lack the filamented structure. They often become twisted during incubation.
The young male’s tail is similar to the female’s, but develops progressively, with each moult, until maturity is reached after 7 to 9 years.

Powerful, far-carrying mimicry of a large range of other birdcalls, intermingled with the bird’s own phrases and also sometimes mechanical noises such as chain-saws. The females call is similar but less powerful.
The birds can be detected by their call – a string of mimicked calls that are “louder” than the calls made by the birds being mimicked.

Life Cycle
Courtship is complex and varied and it extends over a long period.
The male attracts females by performing a dance on its mound while singing and displaying its inverted tail. It may have up to 12 mounds in its territory. The mounds are a cleared area, 1 to 2 m. across, with raked material to 15 cm depth in the centre.
The birds call all year round but serious performance on the mounds starts in autumn. The female’s selection of a male is apparently based on the quality of his performance. Once selected the male mates with the female, she then goes on her way with no further assistance from the male. He continues his performances and may attract a number of females.
The female constructs the domed bulky nest with sticks, ferns, moss and bark usually within the male’s territory. This can be at ground level or elevated in stumps, ferns or trees to a height of 25 m. The nest has a thick lining of fibrous roots and feathers to make it warm and waterproof for the inclement winter months.
One egg, 65 x 45 mm, of variable colour is usually laid in June or July (records exist from May to September).
Incubation, in the wild, takes about 45 days (22 days in captivity where the nest is not regularly vacated for extended periods for food gathering).
The chick fledges after 47 days and is dependent on the adult female for a further 7 to 8 months.
Maturity is reached in 7 to 9 years for males and 6 to 7 years for females.

Roosts in trees but feeds at ground level. Flies heavily, glides downwards but usually proceeds upward by a series of leaps.

Worms, grubs, beetles etc. which are found at or just below the interface of the forest litter and the soil, or under bark or small logs on the forest floor. Surface scratchings are good indicators of the bird’s presence in an area.

From north-east of Melbourne (Dandenongs and Kinglake) up east coast to just north of Queensland border. Introduced to Tasmania.

Three subspecies have been identified over the range (only one occurs in Victoria).

Similar Species
Albert’s Lyrebird (Menura alberti) occurs in subtropical rainforests near the Queensland border.

ELZ Lyrebird Records
Lyrebirds were seen in the area, for the first time in at least forty years, during July 2000. They seem to have re-established themselves on the northern edge of the ELZ. Since July 2000, over 270 records of Lyrebirds in the area have been reported. Details of these can be downloaded here.

This re-establishment of the Lyrebird is a practical example of the importance of the habitat link between Kinglake National Park (KNP) and Warrandyte State Park (WSP). WSP is too small and fragmented to independently sustain its biological diversity in the long term. The habitat link with KNP is a way of overcoming this problem.

The ELZ is a vital part of that link and we have used this fact to support our arguments for special protection of our area. Sometimes in the past people have been skeptical of this concept but the lyrebird experience is concrete evidence of the importance of the link.

As with the ELZ, Lyrebirds have not been recorded in WSP for at least 42 years (probably since before the ’62 fires). It now seems to be only a matter of time for them to reach WSP, provided the environmental qualities of the link are maintained and protected.