A seven-year-old male lyrebird at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo has perfected its impersonation of a screaming human baby, as evidenced by a somewhat ear-splitting new video. In the footage, the appropriately-named Echo can be heard mimicking the cries of a distressed human infant.
Native to central and eastern Australia, the superb lyrebird is a famously talented impressionist, and is one of nature’s greatest examples of mimicry. In the wild, the birds regularly copy the songs of other species as well as other forest sounds, though they usually learn their sonic repertoire from older lyrebirds rather than directly parroting the noises in their environment.
Captive lyrebirds have also been known to base their calls around anthropogenic sounds, with camera shutters and chainsaws being among the most intriguing recorded examples. A celebrated lyrebird named Chook, for example, is said to have developed an impressive array of power tool sounds after witnessing the construction of a new panda enclosure at Adelaide Zoo.
Leanne Golebiowski, the unit supervisor for birds at Taronga Zoo, told The Guardian that Echo first began imitating the cry of a baby last year. “In a zoo setting, because there is such an abundance of sounds that they would hear, it would be hard for these birds not to mimic some of them,” she said.
“I can only assume that he picked it up from our guests.”
In addition to the cry of a baby, Echo also regularly mimics the sound of a power drill and the zoo’s fire alarm. “He even has the ‘evacuate now’ announcement down pat,” says Golebiowski.
While both male and female lyrebirds are known to simulate a wide array of sounds, males tend to be considerably more vocal, particularly during the breeding season. These borrowed calls are believed to play a role in courtship, although it is likely that avian mimicry serves a multitude of purposes, many of which are not yet understood.
In addition to their impressive library of impressions, lyrebirds do also produce their own natural call, which has been described as “mechanical” and consists of a series of whirring, clicking and grinding sounds.
According to Golebiowski, lyrebirds tend to practice new sounds before deciding whether or not to add them to their regular repertoire. “I’m not too sure what it is about the baby crying that [Echo] finds interesting or fascinating, but I hope it won’t make the final cut,” she says.
[H/T: The Guardian]