ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel


Updated on August 14, 2009

The lyrebird is either one of two Australian birds named for the lyre-shaped tail of the male. The superb lyre-bird (Menura superba) usually grows to a length of 38 inches. The Albert's lyrebird (M. alberti) is slightly smaller.

The lyre-bird is a remarkable Australian bird allied to the group of typical small perching birds, but forming an order, Menuriiformes, by itself. Both species have a small head, a relatively long neck, and large strong legs and feet. Their plumage is mostly brown with reddish brown on the chin, throat, and chest.

It is nearly the size of a small pheasant and lives on the ground, its food consisting mainly of insects. Its nest, made usually at the foot of a tree or rock, occasionally in a tree, is domed, with a hole at the side. Only one large egg is laid.

The bird takes its name from the likeness of the very long tail-feathers of the cock-bird to a lyre, the outer feather on each side being broad and curved like an S, and the inner feathers thin and scantily barbed. The tail is used in a remarkable series of displays and dances, originally associated with courtship but now extended, apparently, to a purely aesthetic occupation outside the breeding season. Both species inhabit dense rain forest gullies and scrubs.

Physical Characteristics

They were commonly known to the early settlers as pheasants and many were shot for their beautiful tail feathers. The general colour above is brown, the under-parts being a lighter brown.

Adult males can be distinguished from females and young males by the tail, which grows up to 30 inches (76 cm) in length and consists of two large outer feathers which have brown crescent-shaped markings on the upper side, two black wire-like feathers and 12 filamentary feathers which are dark on top and silver underneath, as are the outer tail feathers. This combination of feathers can be erected to give the shape of a lyre, the musical instrument after which the bird was name, though it is seldom carried in this position.


Lyrebirds live in dense forests and feed on worms and insects. They are still plentiful in an area between the Great Dividing Range and the sea from southern Queensland through to the Dandenong Ranges in southern Victoria. Although it is now strictly protected, numbers are decreasing as further areas of forest-land are cleared.

Males occupy territories on the slopes of gullies and each will defend an area of 2 to 10 acres. They make small clearings from which all vegetation is removed and scratch earth up into the form of a low mound some 6 inches (15 cm) high and 36 inches (90 cm) in diameter on which they sing and display. Usually from four to six such mounds, at various vantage points in the territory, are in use at any one time but several more may be built and discarded during the breeding season. These mounds are kept well tended and before a male commences to sing he carefully scratches the surface of the mound until any accumulated litter has been removed. Scratched earth is attractive to the females who will visit mounds and scratch around even when the male is not present.


During courtship the male climbs on a mound of forest debris and begins to sing. It brings its tail forward over its back, touching it to the ground in front of its lowered head. At the end of the display it abruptly folds its tail and walks away.

Breeding takes place from May to October, but principally in the winter months of June and July when the single egg is laid. Where it breeds at high altitudes the large domed nest is often covered with snow. The female builds a covered nest of ferns, sticks, and bark, and she lays a single grayish egg that usually hatches in about six weeks. The egg is remarkably resistant to cold and in the early stages of incubation can be left for 24 hours or more without damage.

Although the nest is large and may measure up to 24 inches (61 cm) in width, nesting females can be distinguished by their bent tail feathers, which are curled round the body when in the nest. Incubation takes about six weeks and the chick spends a further six weeks in the nest which may be on the ground, in an old tree stump, on a cliff ledge, or even at times in a tall tree. Nesting areas are established by the females in the thickly vegetated damp gullies of the forest, near a pool or running stream into which they place the droppings collected from the nestlings.


Lyrebirds are said to have the ability to mimic many sounds such as the noise of axe blows, cross-cut saws, barking dogs, a variety of other bushland noises and nowadays even mobile phone ringtones, but such occurrences are rare except where birds are living close to human settlement.

In the wild mimicry is restricted mainly to the calls of other bird species and the rustling of feathers in flight. Nevertheless the performance is often extraordinary, for example when the bird mimics a chorus of several kookaburras or a flock of parrots passing overhead—- calls, wingbeats and all. Until recently there was a general belief that the extensive use of mimicry served no other purpose than the male's own enjoyment, but recent studies have shown that they select sounds which are strongly directional in character for that part of the song which is directed at rival males. In dense vegetation, in which visibility is reduced to a few feet, the constant output of mimicry forms an effective directional beacon which gives a clear indication of the male's location and of the extent of his territory as he moves from one song point to another. As the female approaches and the song is directed to the now visible mate, different mimicked sounds are used. These do not have such strong directional characteristics, simply serving to retain the attention of the female for a short period until the song merges into a continuous clicking noise of low intensity which may continue for several minutes. This sound is the prelude to copulation which generally takes place near the display mound.

As the male bird pours out is continuous song, which incorporates the calls of many of the forest birds, and slowly gyrates on its mound, even the most objective observer is apt to be carried away and it is easy to understand the many romantic misconceptions which are to be found in some of the lyrebird literature. Most of the male's song and display is directed to rival males, the territorial song with its accompanying stream of mimicry and the very loud 'pilik pilik' calls which accompany full display are largely directed to this end.

They are remarkable for the power, mellowness, and variety of their song, and as mimics of the calls of other birds and of other noises of the forests they have no equals in the bird world.


  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 4, 1954. Page 258.
  • Merit Students Encyclopedia, Volume 11, P.F. Collier Inc, 1979. Page 341.
  • Encyclopedia of the Animal World, Volume x, Bay Books, 1977. Page 1150.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Chapter profile image


      7 years ago from Indonesia

      great bird i hope I get one

    • darkside profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Australia

      Ric, what do you mean by 'personal use'?

    • profile image

      Bonnie Gates 

      8 years ago

      Hi, I live in the Kinglake West/Humevale area of Vic & have around 50 acres of dense forest, after the 2009 fires i was astounded to find that a large male lyrebird (i call him my lyrebird) had survived the fires & now a year on is enjoying his forest again now that it has revegetated, it is lovely to hear his song I was so sure they had all perished - (ps) my home survived as well!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      would like to know if these birds can be purchased for personal use and to help perserve the breed.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)