Superb lyrebirds move to the music, scientists find (with video)
Study in Current Biology supports evidence that music and dance are deeply intertwined activities
By Mary Beth O'Leary Posted on 6 June 2013
When male superb lyrebirds sing, they often move their bodies to the music in a choreographed way, say researchers who reported their findings in the journal Current Biology, published by Elsevier's Cell Press on June 6. The findings add 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 Dr. Anastasia Dalziell of Australian National University. "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.'"
The lyrebirds' dance movements are a voluntary embellishment to their singing; in other words, they can and do sing without dancing. Sometimes they also make mistakes in their dancing, an observation that suggests to Dr. Dalziell and her colleagues that dancing is challenging for the birds, just as it is for us humans (some more than others).
As much as people love to dance, the activity is even more crucial for the birds. Before they can mate, males must impress females with their dancing skills. They put a lot of work into their dances, with years of practice before they reach maturity.
In the breeding season, female lyrebirds will visit several different males to watch their song-and-dance routines. Exactly what those females are looking for is still anyone's guess.
"Sometimes after what seems to me to be a perfectly wonderful display by a male, I watch a female leave and check out his neighbor," Dalziell said.
Read the study
The article, "Dance Choreography Is Coordinated with Song Repertoire in a Complex Avian Display," by Anastasia Dalziell et al, is freely available in Current Biology until June 13: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.05.018 [divider]
Reporting for Elsevier Connect
Mary Beth O'Leary is Press Officer and Associate Media Relations Manager for Cell Press (@CellPressNews), based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She began her career at Cell Press as an Senior Editorial Assistant for the journal Cell before transitioning into a role as Marketing/Publicity Coordinator. In December, she moved into her position as Press Officer for Cell Press's 29 journals. A graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, she studied literature and art history.