Absurd Creature : Bird That Does Unbelievable Impressions of Chainsaws, Car Alarms - Wired Science
Just watch the video above. It’s real. I know because David Attenborough hosts it, and David is legit. This behavior is particularly common in captivity, where lyrebirds are inundated with decidedly unnatural sounds. And check out the second video below of a lyrebird in Australia’s Adelaide Zoo. It not only pulls off the din of a drill and hammer strikes, but the tone changes as a nail is driven home, guaranteeing that zoo employees will be annoyed by construction long after the construction itself is finished.
Physiologically, what could be driving this incredible mimicry? What makes the lyrebird so adept at impersonation? Well, according to behavioral ecologist Anastasia Dalziell of the Australian National University, we don’t really know yet. We can assume the lyrebird must have excellent hearing and memory, but what makes it so special biologically hasn’t been studied at length.
What we do know is that the lyrebird is a kind of songbird, producing sound with a vocal organ roughly equivalent to our larynx called a syrinx. (Syrinx, by the way, is Greek for “panpipe” and the name of a wood nymph who fled from the advances of Pan, who was a bit of a jackass. Beseeching assistance from water nymphs at a river’s edge, she was turned into reeds, which Pan chopped to pieces and fashioned into a flute. So … yeah.)
With lyrebirds, “it is true that their syrinx is slightly different in structure than most other songbirds,” Dalziell said in an email to WIRED. “For example, it has fewer syringeal muscles, but exactly how the structure of the syrinx allows it to produce so many sounds is not yet clear.” Strangely, notes Dalziell, having more muscles in the syrinx typically corresponds with greater vocal complexity — but the ultra-talkative lyrebirds (and parrots, as it happens) are exceptions to this rule.