A viral video making the rounds shows a lyrebird mimicking a laser gun with incredible accuracy. So how is this possible? The video demonstrates the prevalence of mimicry in nature, where looks — and, in this case, sounds — can be deceiving.
Lyrebirds, which are large songbirds native to Australia, are so good at copying sounds that they can even fool the animals that originated the vocalizations or other noises.
Related: 10 Most Unusual Animal Vocal Mimics.
For example, lyrebirds imitate the complex songs of grey shrike-thrushes. Researcher Anastasia Dalziell of James Cook University and colleague Robert Magrath recorded the lyrebird's versions of the songs and played them back to the birds being imitated.
"Mimicry was so accurate that even the imitated species rarely picked copies," the researchers wrote in the study, which was published in the journal Animal Behavior. The scientists added that "despite copy accuracy, lyrebirds abridged songs by reducing repetition of notes."
When a lyrebird lets out a call, it can consist of everything from baby cry sounds to camera shutter noises to motorcycles revving up and much more.
How then does the bird achieve such vocal feats, and why are the sounds so short and, well, eccentric?
All sounds consist of vibrations that travel through the air or another medium and can be heard when they reach the ear of a person or other animal. With the right equipment, any sound can theoretically be copied.
Dalziell explained to ABC Science that nearly all songbirds possess a vocal organ called the syrinx located at the base of the trachea. Because it's positioned where the trachea forks into the bronchii that lead to the lungs, birds can produce more than one sound at the same time. There's a sound coming from each of the two bronchii, giving vocalizations a stereo effect.
The syrinx of the lyrebird is unique in that it has fewer muscles, Dalziell said, making it extremely flexible. So it can produce a seemingly unlimited variety of vibrations and sounds.
Now the question is, why in the world would a bird want to sound like a laser gun, a cat fighting or other sounds that would appear to have little connection to its avian life?
The answer is sex.
Related: Animals That Use Flash to Attract.
Picky female lyrebirds listen to male lyrebirds singing, helping them decide which fellow is the most talented, and therefore the fittest. Like judges on a TV talent show, they listen for dexterity. Surprise elements also help to maintain their attention span, preventing them from listening to another potential suitor.
As Dalziell and Magrath explained, "Short imitations may arise if male lyrebirds need to balance two requirements: to sing highly accurate imitations, but also to demonstrate their versatility."
The imitations are therefore short, and very impressive. Hopefully the lyrebird featured in the video obtained his desired mate.
To hear another astounding lyrebird song, check out this oldie but goodie clip from David Attenborough's fantastic "Life of Birds" series:
This article originally appeared at Discovery News and is republished here with permission.