Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Taxon of the Day: Menura

Lyrebird - Menura novaehollandiae
Today's Taxon of the Day has once again been produced by Thomas Kunze, he writes:

Many birds are well known for their beautiful song, for example, the blackbird and nightingale are held in high musical regard here in Europe. Today’s Taxon of the Day has one of the most extraordinary birdsongs ever heard on earth, with David Attenborough describing it as “possibly the most elaborate, complex and beautiful”. The genus Menura from Australia contains two species commonly known as lyrebirds both of which are listed in the Catalogue of Life. Not only can these birds mimic the sound of a whole range of other forest birds such as the kookaburra, but human-made noises too, such as, camera clicks, street works, chainsaws and car alarms, all of which are recorded in the BBC video. Who else can do this than the Australian lyrebirds?!?

These sounds are made by the male lyrebird when trying to attract a partner (why else?). He forms a hill of earth to stand on, or places himself on a branch and starts to sing. The females will be attracted to this unique vocal performance and snatch a view of the male's astonishing tail feathers before deciding if he is appropriate for mating. The lyrebirds special capability of adopting all kinds of noises into their song are what makes it unique. Once there were just forest noises in the birdsong, but now because all sorts of sounds have encroached into the bird’s habitat they too are included. To be able to produce this variety of sound the lyrebird has developed one of the most elaborate syrinx (vocal organ) of all birds. 

There are two species in the genus Menura: Menura alberti Bonaparte, 1850 and Menura novaehollandiae Latham, 1802. Both species form the family Menuridae a member of the order Passeriformes (aka perching birds). The original distribution of both species are the mountain forests in South-Eastern Australia.

The species Menura alberti has been assessed by the Catalogue of Life's partner IUCN Red List as Near Threatened.

CoL Annual Checklist: Menura alberti  
CoL contributor: ITIS Global
Image copyright: By Melburnian (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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