The superb lyrebird has a superb skill - scientists have discovered it can move the equivalent of 11 dump trucks of soil and leaf litter a year.
La Trobe University researchers made the discovery after tracking wild superb lyrebirds over two years in the Central Highlands of Victoria across the Sherbrooke Forest, Yarra Ranges National Park and the Britannia Creek catchment.
The research suggests the Australian songbirds can move more soil than any other land animal globally after they were found to displace on average 155 tonnes of soil and leaf litter per hectare every year while they forage for food.
Lead researcher Alex Maisey says their extensive raking and displacement of litter and soil occurred year-round and makes an important contribution to forest ecology.
"In just one year, we calculated that each lyrebird in Sherbrooke Forest moved a load equivalent to that carried by 11 standard dump trucks," Mr Maisey said in a statement on Wednesday.
"The superb lyrebird truly is Australia's most hard-working ecosystem engineer."
The scientists found the bird uses its sharp claws to expose bare earth and mix and bury litter while it seeks out invertebrate prey.
By moving large amounts of ground material, the lyrebirds also change litter decomposition and the structure of soil on the forest floor.
"Just like the well-known beaver in North America, that uses logs and mud to dam a stream and create a deep pond, this Australian songbird is changing the environment in ways that can benefit other organisms," Mr Maisey said.
BirdLife Australia estimates about 40 per cent of the lyrebird's habitat was destroyed in last summer's bushfires, raising concerns about the status of the species.
Mr Maisey said the conservation of the species should be a priority given the contributions they make to the environment.
"Without lyrebirds, Australia's forests would be vastly different places, with impacts extending well beyond the absence of their glorious song or their mimicked sounds of camera clicks," he said.
Australian Associated Press
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