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lyrebird

lyrebird, common name for Australian passerine birds named for the appearance of the tail plumage of the male superb lyrebird, Menura novaehollandiae, when displayed during courtship. There are only two species. The superb lyrebird, about the size of a rooster, is brown above and ash below. It has a long, pointed bill, a longish neck, and large, strong legs and feet with which it runs swiftly. The Albert's lyrebird is smaller. Lyrebirds are shy, solitary forest and scrubland dwellers. They seldom fly; at night they roost in trees. Their diet consists of insects, worms, and land crustaceans and mollusks. The frame of the lyre, which develops when the male is three years old, is formed by the two long (2 ft/60 cm), curved outer tail feathers; the "strings" between are lacy white quills. The lyre position of the tail is assumed only fleetingly during the courtship dance, which is performed on a mound of earth scraped together by the male. This dance is accompanied by elaborate vocalizing, the birds being excellent mimics as well as distinctive singers. The female lays her single egg in a bulky domed nest built on or near the ground. The lyrebird appears on the seals and stamps of Australia. Lyrebirds are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Menuridae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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