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Hummingbird Tail Feathers

April 24, 2018

A male hummingbird makes sounds with his tail feathers to attract females.

Transcript

Male Costa's hummingbirds create an elaborate visual and acoustic display to attract females.  (Alan Schmierer Public Domain, via Flickr)

Male Costa’s hummingbirds create an elaborate visual and acoustic display to attract females. (Alan Schmierer Public Domain, via Flickr)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Dive-bombing hummingbirds. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Costa’s hummingbird dive sound)

When male Costa’s hummingbirds dive through the air, they sound a little like the onboard communications system in Star Trek. But they’re really just trying to impress females.

CHRIS CLARK (UC, Riverside):

The males will climb high up in the air and then do this power dive where they descend and accelerate towards the earth and then zoom past the female while spreading their tail and making sounds with their tail as they go past.

HIRSHON:

UC, Riverside biologist Chris Clark and his colleague Emily Mistick report in Current Biology that the males twist their tail feathers during flight to reduce sound distortion caused by the Doppler effect:

CHRIS CLARK:

…Like a race car going by on a racetrack (neer-rowww).

HIRSHON:

This allows them to control their perceived speed, but it’s not yet known why they do this, or if the females take notice. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard