The elusive lyrebird, one of Australia's unique animal species, knows how to dance to its own song, according to scientists. The discovery supports the long held theory that for humans as well, music and dance are innately connected and can play a part in taking romance to the next level.
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA (ZOOS SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - As the more common of two lyrebird species, the Superb lyrebird is an icon of Australia, famous for its magnificent plumage - shaped like a lyre when on display - and its mimicry skills. The birds are hard to find in the wild, largely because they can blend into their surroundings and produce uncannily accurate impersonations of sounds that surround them. The Adelaide zoo's lyrebird, named Chook, was famous for his ability to mimic machinery and his impersonation of a kookaburra before he died aged 37 in 2011.
But now, scientists at Australian National University (ANU) have discovered something else about the male lyrebird. In a paper published in Current Biology, lead researcher Anastasia Dalziell says that when male superb lyrebirds sing, they often move their bodies to the music in a choreographed way, adding to evidence from human cultures around the world that music and dance are deeply intertwined activities.
"Like humans, male superb lyrebirds have different dance movements to go with different songs," said Dalziell.
"Just as we 'waltz' to waltz music but 'salsa' to salsa music, so lyrebirds step sideways with their tail spread out like a veil to one song - which sounds like a 1980s video-arcade game - while they jump and flap their wings with their tail in a mohawk position while singing a quiet 'plinkety-plinkety-plinkety,' she said.
Dalziell says the lyrebirds' dance movements are a voluntary extension of their singing. She says they can and do sing without dancing, but where they do move to their own music they can make mistakes in their dancing suggesting that dancing is challenging for the birds, just as it is for many humans. For the birds, however, Dalziell says dancing serves a crucial purpose. Before they can mate, males must impress females with their dancing skills, having practised for years before reaching maturity.
Dalziell says that In the breeding season, female lyrebirds will visit several different males to watch their song-and-dance routines. She says it's not clear what the females are looking for, but the males seem to know, and work hard to impress.