Menura novaehollandia

Geographic Range

Superb Lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandia) are located along southeastern Australia. They have a very large range going from where Brisbane is, through Sydney, to where Melbourne is. These birds were also introduced to Tasmania during the 1930’s and 40’s (BirdLife International, 2018). They are not located in the heart of these cities, but in the forests around these areas. Lyrebirds do not usually travel long distances and stay in rainforest areas on the ground. Their habit of staying on land slightly limits their geographic range. (International, 2018)


Since Lyrebirds spend most of their time on the ground, they prefer darker gullies to hide in and do not rely on trees as a form of habitat (Higgins, 1990). These birds prefer ground-covering plants like ferns to hide in. Occasionally roosting in trees at night or flying to trees for protection are the only times the Lyrebird will fly. They are also found in some national parks around Melbourne and other regions along the coast of Australia. This is very unlike Albert’s Lyrebird that is only found in a small area of the S. Queensland rainforest. (Higgins, et al., 1990)

Physical Description

Superb Lyrebirds are of the largest passerine birds (singing/perching) in the world. In terms of size, males are around 100 cm (39 in) and 1.1 kg (2.4 lb.). Females are 76-80 cm (30-31 in) and 0.89 kg (1.96 lb.). Their wingspan is 68-76 cm (27-30 in) with the females being slightly smaller. Plumage colors consist of brownish grey upper body, red-brown on coverts and wings, and underparts brownish grey. Males have ornate tails that are 55-70 cm (22-28 in) with 16 feathers and the 2 outermost feathers forming a lyre shape (Higgins, et al., 1990). It takes about 7 years for them to form their tail. Most of the feathers making the elaborate tail are wispy and white and the two outermost are brown and white striped and have a curve at the end. Females are less striking with shorter, brownish grey feathers everywhere. Juveniles, male and female, are slightly different in having brown feathers covering them to assist with camouflaging against the forest floor. They are ground dwelling birds that are not good fliers except for some gliding so the resulting wing musculature is not as large or strong. Stronger legs and feet are what help them with quick running instead of flying. (Higgins, et al., 1990)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • sexes shaped differently
  • ornamentation
  • Range mass
    Male: 1.1 kg/Female: 0.89 kg (high) kg
  • Range length
    Male: 100 cm/Female: 76-80 cm (high) cm
  • Range wingspan
    Male: 68-76 cm/Female: slightly smaller (high) cm


These birds breed in autumn and winter and have a promiscuous mating system (both males and females mate with more than one of the other). An adult male can be heard throughout the day while he builds mounds from soil, and flaunts his long tail to attract a mate. (Edwards, 1919; Watts, 2001; Welbergen and Dalziell, 2016)

Once females are ready, they lay a single egg (ranging from grey to dark purple-brown with spots) in a domed nest made from twigs, roots, bark, and camouflaged with moss. Nesting sites are usually hidden on the ground in a bank, gullies, etc. but will occasionally be wedged in low branches of trees if there are more predators in the area. (Edwards, 1919; Watts, 2001; Welbergen and Dalziell, 2016)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding typically occurs once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in fall and winter.
  • Average gestation period
    42 days
  • Average time to independence
    9 months

The females build the nest, incubate the egg, and care for the young (Watts, 2001). She will incubate the egg for longer than most perching birds (about 42 days). The chick can leave the nest about 6 weeks after hatching and spends around nine months with its mother until it can be independent. If the nest is located in a tree, however, it will take longer for the chick to leave in order for its wings to develop a bit more. Soon after the chicks become independent and leave their mother, they can begin searching for mates in the next breeding season. Males do not care for the female or their young after mating; only the female will care for their young (Edwards, H. The Emu, 1919). A study in 2016 shows a hidden complexity in females’ vocalizations (Welbergen, 2016). They vocalize more complexly and frequently in order to defend their nest. (Edwards, 1919; Watts, 2001; Welbergen and Dalziell, 2016)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


In most studies, these birds live for about 15 years. However, the population is decreasing due to the rainforests and habitats diminishing (Birdlife International. 2018). (International, 2018)


Superb Lyrebirds rely on their long and powerful legs and feet to run to escape from predators and get around. However, they also use them to move leaf litter off the forest floor to uncover insects. One of the most known attributes about these birds is their vocal displays. They can imitate up to 16 different bird species as well as humans and other sounds (Anastasia, et al., 2016). This makes them stand out (or blend in) especially while mating or defending territory. They are able to blend in with vocalizations by sounding similar to other birds to avert predator attention or by not sounding like a bird at all. Small feeding groups (consisting of males and/or females) make it easier for them to scavenge for food but other than this, they are solitary birds. They aren’t usually hostile with each other, except during breeding season when males are more competitive with others. (Welbergen and Dalziell, 2016)

  • Key Behaviors
  • cursorial
  • terricolous
  • sedentary

Communication and Perception

These birds are known for their extremely wide range of vocalizations whether it be male or female. Superb lyrebirds can mimic almost any sound such as other bird species, chainsaws, people, water drops, etc. Males use these impressive vocalizations for attracting mates and defending territories as well as visual displays and tail plumage. The more unique and complicated the sounds were, the more chance a female would be attracted to the male. It was found that females were completely silent during courtship, but would have sophisticated sounds and imitations during the non-breeding season (Dalziell, Anastasia, H. 2016) as well as when defending their young. Some research says that these birds do not use such complex mimicry to simply communicate with others of their species except for defense or breeding (Robinson, 1990). They believe this because there is no other good reason that they would do such loud and compound vocalizations for hours on end. They also have specific sounds for ‘alarms’ and more melodic songs called ‘whistle songs’. (Robinson, 1990; Welbergen and Dalziell, 2016)

  • Other Communication Modes
  • mimicry

Food Habits

They use their long legs to uncover brush from forest floor to eat insects, worms, spiders, fly and beetle larvae, and snails (Chisholm, 1955). Having powerful legs and feet to be able to upturn stones and pull bark from trees when foraging is very important for survival and also effects the ecosystem. Feeding groups are often made up of females and males in groups. (Chisholm, 1955)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms


Predators consist of cats, foxes, etc. especially since lyrebirds cannot fly well. Feral cats are one of Australia’s biggest invasive species and are associated with the extinction of many native animals (Nugent, 2014). These birds are very secretive and have to rely on running quickly through the underbrush to escape. Sometimes they fly to the trees to hide, but not as often. Not being able to fly or having any defensive mechanism is a huge factor in the death of Superb Lyrebirds. (Nugent, et al., 2014)

Ecosystem Roles

Their foraging habits change the structure of the forest floor and help with the reduction of the mass of organic material, thereby reducing the cause of forest fires. It is thought that their foraging speeds up the process of decomposition on forest floors, which leads to the decrease in frequency and intensity of forest fires as well as nitrogen cycling and soil respiration (Tassell, 2014). The fires also affects the distribution of the Lyrebirds as well as decreases their abundance (Nugent, et al., 2014). Studies show that the rocks being disturbed by their foraging also effect the ecosystem. It influences habitats for juvenile snakes and other animals depending on those rocks for survival. A study in 2006 shows that Superb Lyrebirds have strongly affected the habitat selection for these snakes by forcing them to find rocks that are too heavy for the birds to lift, or making them find habitats that are no longer suitable because they lyrebirds won’t be scavenging there (Webb, et al., 2006). (Nugent, et al., 2014; Tassell, University of Tansmania/2017; Webb and Whiting, 2006)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Looking at the Lyrebirds activities in ecosystems, their foraging habits speed up the process of decomposition in forests. This helps the overall effects of forest fires as well as other species of animals in those areas. Consequently, Superb Lyrebird’s roles on the ecosystem is very important for forest fuel management and conservation in Australia (Nugent, et al., 2013). In terms of people, these birds do make more tourists travel to the area in search of them. This gives certain areas and national forests a lot more popularity. There are people who attempt to find these birds in the wild and usually have little success because they hide so well. However, there are documented sightings and recordings of Superb Lyrebirds and humans do not affect their population or way of life by doing this. (Nugent, et al., 2014)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

These birds do not show any threat to humans. They do not prefer to be close to people or anything that they see as a threat and they do not have any negative consequences (Birdlife International, 2018). The only other impact they have is on snakes when they upturn rocks while foraging, but there is not a big enough change in the snakes’ population to be considered a huge negative threat. There are also no issues with these birds causing automotive accidents or anything related, because they do not venture out from their hiding spots in the forests to be any closer to humans. (International, 2018)

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, this species is not currently listed as vulnerable because of its wide range of habitat. However, the habitat range and population have been slowly decreasing because of the impact that humans have on the degeneration of rainforests. It is said that this slow decline is not enough to sufficiently effect the overall status of the Lyrebirds (Higgins, 1990). The actual population size and number of these birds is not known, but it is believed that they have not reached the threshold for ‘vulnerable status’ and the Lyrebirds will remain at ‘least concern’. (Higgins, et al., 1990)


Emily Bean (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec Lindsay (editor), Northern Michigan University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals


an animal that mainly eats meat


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


Chisholm, A. 1955. How and When the Lyrebird was Discovered. The Emu, Vol. 55/Part 1: 1-15. Accessed January 30, 2018 at

Doty, A., C. Stawski, J. Nowack, A. Bondarenco, F. Geiser. 2014. Increased lyrebird presence in a post-fire landscape. Australian Journal of Zoology, Vol. 63: 9-11. Accessed January 30, 2018 at

Edwards, H. 1919. The Nesting of Lyrebirds. The Emu, Vol. 18/: 298-299. Accessed January 30, 2018 at

Hall, M., R. Mulder. 2013. Animal Behaviour: A Song and Dance about Lyrebirds. Current Biology, Vol. 23/Iss. 12: R518-R519. Accessed January 30, 2018 at

Higgins, P., J. Peter, W. Steele. 1990. Handbook of Australain, New Zealand, and Antarctic Birds. Melbourne: Melbourne Oxford University Press.

International, B. 2018. "Superb Lyrebird Menura novaehollandiae" (On-line). Birdlife International. Accessed January 30, 2018 at

Leonard, P. 2016. "Female Lyrebirds Step Into The Spotlight With Their Extraordinary Mimicry" (On-line). The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Accessed January 30, 2018 at

Nugent, D., S. Leonard, M. Clarke. 2014. Interactions between Superb Lyrebird and fire in South-east Australia. United States: CSIRO Publishing. Accessed January 30, 2018 at

Robinson, F. 1990. Emu. Phatic communication in bird song, 91/1: 61-63. Accessed April 01, 2018 at

Robinson, F., H. Curtis. 1996. The Vocal Displays of the Lyrebirds (Menuridae). Emu, Volume 96/Issue 4: 258-275. Accessed January 30, 2018 at

Tassell, S. University of Tansmania/2017. "he effect of the non-native superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) on Tasmanian forest ecosystems" (On-line). University of Tansmania. Accessed April 01, 2018 at

Watts, D. 2001. The Best of Australian Birds. New York, New Holland: New Holland Publishers, Ltd.. Accessed April 01, 2018 at

Webb, J., M. Whiting. 2006. Does rock disturbance by superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) influence habitat selection by juvenile snakes?. Austral Ecology, Volume 31/Issue 1: 58-67. Accessed January 30, 2018 at

Welbergen, J., A. Dalziell. 2016. Elaborate Mimetic Vocal Displays by Female Superb Lyrebirds. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 4: 34. Accessed January 30, 2018 at