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Feather Songs

January 7, 2010

A South American bird serenades potential mates by rubbing its wing feathers together.


Winged seduction…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Many male birds sing elaborate songs to attract a mate. But the club-winged manakin, a rare South American bird, serenades females by rubbing its wing feathers together. Biologist Kim Bostwick of Cornell University discovered the behavior. Damian Elias, now at UC Berkeley, figured out that they produce the sound by rubbing a specialized wing feather against two adjacent feathers.

DAMIAN ELIAS (University of California-Berkeley):
As it rubs along them it basically makes them ring like tuning forks, and the ringing of these tuning forks at the edge of each feather actually causes the entire wing to act as a vibrating structure. And it’s this whole vibrating structure that produces this song that they use to attract mates.

He says that while such behavior is uncommon in birds, insects often use a similar mechanism to produce mating calls.

Sfx: wing sounds

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.