The Albert’s lyrebird is much rarer than the superb lyrebird. Distinguished by its richer brown plumage and less elaborate tail feathers, it’s protected as a threatened species in NSW.
Albert’s lyrebirds are large, shy birds restricted to a narrow range of subtropical rainforest and moist eucalypt forests in far northern NSW and south-eastern Queensland.
They’re so shy that the first published photo of one didn’t appear until 1970, some 120 years after being first described by French ornithologist Charles Bonaparte (Napoleon’s cousin).
Males create courtship arenas in a thicket of tangled vines in the dense rainforest. These thickets are often located where the forest canopy has been disturbed. The extra light in these openings helps to spotlight his display.
During courtship displays males lift their tail feathers forward across their head to create a lacy curtain. The performing bird peers through the feathers, keeping a sharp eye out for female interest and predators.
His dance moves include stepping on specially selected thin vines which lay across the arena. Each step causes sections of the thicket shake in a rhythmic pattern. The timing, dance pattern and song varies between Albert's lyrebird meta-populations.
Monitoring footage © Anna Fearnley
Monitoring footage © Anna Fearnley
4 facts about lyrebirds
1. Unravelling the mysteries
It’s estimated that less than 30 people alive today have personally witnessed a full Albert’s lyrebird display in the wild. Even researchers who study Albert’s lyrebird are rarely able to follow the movement of birds through the rainforest for long due to their extreme shyness (shy lyrebirds, not necessarily shy researchers).
Instead, researchers rely on passive acoustic recorders and motion-sensitive remote cameras.
2. Masterful mimics
Lyrebirds are among the world’s most accomplished mimics. They can replicate the calls, wing flaps and beak-clicks of a wide range of local birds and even some mammal vocalisations. Although living in the same forest as the birds they mimic, research suggests Albert’s lyrebirds learn most calls direct from the mimicry of other male lyrebirds. Thus, lyrebird song is socially transmitted locally across generations.
3. Division of labour
Apart from their elaborate courtship and breeding efforts, male Albert’s lyrebirds do absolutely none of the labour of nest making, egg incubation, or raising the chick and fledgling. Those tasks are the responsibility of female lyrebirds only who must work tirelessly for months on end.
4. First of their kind
Lyrebirds are believed to be one of the oldest songbirds on Earth. How old? Fossil deposits of lyrebird ancestors in north-western Queensland have been dated to between 16 and 23 million years-old. Molecular dating suggests lyrebirds were already in Australia as it separated from Antarctica, 35-40 million years ago.
Listen to an Albert’s lyrebird call
Audio © David Stewart Naturesound
- Common name
- Albert's lyrebird
- Scientific name
- Menura alberti
- Conservation status in NSW
Widespread clearing and burning of coastal sub-tropical rainforests during the 19th century significantly reduced Albert’s lyrebird numbers. It’s estimated that fewer than 800 pairs remain in NSW, and they’re listed as a vulnerable species.
Small populations are spread across isolated rainforest islands, some with as few as 10 to 20 individuals.
Dingoes, spotted-tailed quolls, red foxes, feral cats and grey goshawks are thought to prey on Albert’s lyrebirds.Other threats include urbanisation and replacement of wet sclerophyll habitat with plantations, which can also pave the way for invasive weed species, like lantana.
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