Lyrebirds dance to their own music

In mating display, male birds match moves to songs

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Lyrebirds are famous for the mimicked sounds they sing, but they now have another claim to fame: They dance to their own songs.

“Just as we waltz to waltz music but we salsa to salsa music, so lyrebirds perform different dance movements to different types of songs,” says Anastasia Dalziell of the Australian National University in Canberra.

She and her colleagues scrutinized videos of male superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) showing off in the wild for possible mates. The males’ combinations of hums, clicks, trills and other sexy syllables fell into four distinctive song types, the researchers say. At least the first three types are not mimicry but lyrebird originals, Dalziell says.

In courtship, males sing the songs in a fairly predictable order and usually match each to its own mix of dance moves and postures. The birds side-step, turn and flare their outsized lyre-shaped tails. Matching a type of music with a style of gesture is not unique to humankind, the researchers report June 6 in Current Biology.

Performing for females, a male lyrebird dances to the music he makes. And yes, the bird makes the noises heard in the video.
Credit: Current Biology, Dalziell et al.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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