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Australian Lyrebird learns to imitate crying child at Sydney Zoo

Superb Lyrebird

Even for those who have heard about the exceptional mimicry skills of the Australian Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae), this new addition to their vocal repertoire may come as a surprise! 

Echo, the seven-year-old male lyrebird resident of Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, has recently been heard performing a child’s crying fit with disturbing accuracy. His mimicry came complete with tonsil rattling and ear-splitting screams. 

Zoo staff now have to contend with the likelihood that Echo will pair his crying skills with his ability to sound the fire alarm and, incredibly, his capacity to mimic the ‘evacuate now’ announcement. 

Intriguingly, there have not been any zoo guests since the city has been in a lockdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak, likely attesting to the bird’s strong memory capacity. This is supported by evidence that older male lyrebirds pass on sounds to the younger generations – sounds that they have not even heard.  

Lyrebirds are considered unmatched in the songbird world and it seems that they are capable of mimicking almost any sound – from chainsaws and car alarms to koalas and even human voices! – although this is considered rare

Also becoming rare are the lyrebirds themselves. Prior to the 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season the superb lyrebird was considered common but this status may be revised to threatened due to grave habitat destruction. The Albert’s Lyrebird was already considered near threatened as it has a very restricted habitat. 

Regardless of their present vulnerability status, both lyrebird species are certainly heading for a future challenged with the coalescing factors of human-induced habitat destruction, increasing extreme fire events and invasive predatory species. 

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