The birds that compose their songs

who is it about? Male lyrebirds. Their musical abilities are impressive. They are the birds that compose their songs, imitating sounds from their environment. They are usually long and complex melodies that they share with their neighbors.

The birds that compose their songs, the lyrebirds.
The birds that compose their songs, the lyre birds.


The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences Investigated sequences of vocal mimicry sung by male lyrebirds. Conducted at Albert in Bundjalung Country, Eastern Australia.

The principal investigator is Fiona Backhouse. She explained that they make them a bit like in the hip-hop genre. There they rhyme at high speed over a rhythmic base. The lyrebirds sampled the sounds produced by other birds in their environment. With that, they composed new songs by assembling these imitated sounds.

“Each population has a characteristic song sequence. Individual males sing the same song sequence many times during the breeding season.” This is what Backhouse said in a statement.

They use the sounds of their environment to compose.
They use the sounds of their environment to compose.

Singing with drama

The similarity between sequences sung by an individual male was 40.7%. A figure significantly higher than expected by chance. “Individuals copy the sequences of nearby individuals, their neighbors. And so they themselves copy the sequences of others. This provides the ingredients for a ‘game of telephone’. Something similar to how geographical differences arise in human communication.”

The birds that compose their songs use high acoustic contrast. The sequence structure is a means of enhancing perceptions of the repertoire of male lyrebirds.

“They seem to compose their song sequences to maximize drama. They give the listener the best and quickest impression of the virtuosity of the male’s mimicry.”

“Previously, lyrebirds and other vocal mimics were viewed as ‘passive’ mimics. That is, as a recorder that simply reproduced what they heard. This research shows that lyrebirds do, in fact, use their mimicry to ‘compose’ long, complex songs. And all in an effort to attract their female listeners.”

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