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Robotic Dancing Birds

January 2, 2018

Robotic birds help reveal which aspects of a pair’s coordinated song and dance are most important to an avian audience.

Transcript

A male Australian magpie-lark raises his wings and calls in display. (Pierre Pouliquin/CC-BY-NC-2.0, via flickr)

A male Australian magpie-lark raises his wings and calls in display. (Pierre Pouliquin/CC-BY-NC-2.0, via flickr)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Duetting robotic birds. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Australian Magpie-lark song duet)

Male and female Australian magpie-larks sing duets accompanied by coordinated wing movements to scare off territorial invaders. Now, a study in the journal Behavioral Ecology suggests that the more precisely coordinated the display, the more threatening it seems. Australian National University behavioral ecologist Paweł Ręk reached this conclusion after creating a pair of robotic birds that could be very coordinated or very uncoordinated and gauging the reaction of live birds to their songs and dance.

PAWEŁ RĘK (Australian National University):

If the movements are not aligned to sounds, it will not work.

HIRSHON:

Ręk says it can take several months for magpie-lark couples to perfect their displays. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard