What a lark: Birds of a feather sing together

June 20, 2012
What a lark: Birds of a feather sing together
The lyrebird is the reigning king of karaoke in the animal world. Credit: Alex Maisey

(Phys.org) -- The lyrebird is the reigning king of karaoke in the animal world, with not even the birds being mimicked always able to tell the difference between the lyrebirds and the real thing, researchers at The Australian National University have discovered.

PhD candidate Anastasia Dalziell led the team from the Research School of Biology, part of the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, in the study comparing lyrebirds’ mimicked birdcalls to the real thing. Male lyrebirds imitate about 20 to 25 species of birds during the breeding season.

“To test the accuracy of the lyrebird’s mimicry, we performed an acoustic analysis comparing the real songs of the grey strike-thrush with the lyrebird’s mimicked version. Grey shrike-thrushes sing a complex and beautiful , but lyrebirds can accurately mimic them all the same,” Ms. Dalziell said.

However, with so many impressions of other birds’ songs, lyrebirds have found a way to save space in their musical repertoire.

“We found that the lyrebirds were accurately replicating the structure of shrike-thrush songs, but they sang an abridged version containing fewer repeated notes than songs sung by real shrike-thrushes. This meant that lyrebirds could demonstrate both the accuracy and versatility of their mimicry in a shorter period of time than if they mimicked the whole shrike-thrush song,” Ms. Dalziell said.

“We also wanted to ‘ask an expert’ how accurate lyrebird mimicry was, so we played back recordings of lyrebird mimicry to the strike-thrushes themselves. Surprisingly, strike-thrushes approached the speaker broadcasting mimicked songs as well as the shrike-thrushes’ own song.”

Ms. Dalziell and her team further tested the accuracy of the mimicry by playing the imitation as part of a musical stream of mimicked songs of other birds. Since lyrebirds usually mimic lots of different species of bird in quick succession, this gave the strike-thrush a clue as to who the singer might be.

“When strike-thrushes were played a song embedded in a sequence containing of other , they were a bit better at telling the difference between the real thing and a mimic, and approaching a mimetic song less often than when songs were presented on their own,” Ms. Dalziell said.

“The reason the male lyrebird has developed this impressively accurate repertoire is unclear. It might be difficult to be an accurate mimic, so female lyrebirds may get an idea of a male’s quality by assessing how accurate he is.

“Lyrebirds aren’t born good mimics. Young male lyrebirds are really bad mimics and they are hopeless at imitating grey strike-thrush songs. They improve as they get older, but that takes years and years of practice.”

Explore further: And a nightingale sang... experienced males 'show off' to protect their territories

More information: The research has been published in the journal Animal Behaviour and is available online at www.sciencedirect.com/science/ … ii/S0003347212001248

Related Stories

Stress may explain vocal mimicry in Bowerbirds

May 11, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Spotted Bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus maculatus) are best known for their nests, but these birds are also capable of mimicking the vocalizations of many different species of birds. It was believed bowerbirds ...

Birds invent new songs in evolutionary fast-forward

May 2, 2011

Native North Island saddlebacks have developed such distinctive new songs in the last 50 years that it is not clear if birds on one island recognise what their neighbors are singing about, a Massey University study shows.

Bird song-sharing like verbal sparring

August 10, 2011

While singing the same songs as your neighbours may sound harmonious, research conducted at Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) suggests that song-sharing amongst song sparrow populations is actually an aggressive ...

Recommended for you

The astonishing efficiency of life

November 17, 2017

All life on earth performs computations – and all computations require energy. From single-celled amoeba to multicellular organisms like humans, one of the most basic biological computations common across life is translation: ...

Unexpected finding solves 40-year old cytoskeleton mystery

November 17, 2017

Scientists have been searching for it for decades: the enzyme that cuts the amino acid tyrosine off an important part of the cell's skeleton. Researchers of the Netherlands Cancer Institute have now identified this mystery ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.