Say It with Feathers

All to impress a female

06-01-2008 // Hannah Schardt

WHEN A MALE Anna's hummingbird wants to impress a female, he makes a daring display, zooming 100 feet or more into the air, then plummeting back to earth with a noisy chirp. But the distinctive sound, it turns out, comes not from the hummer's throat but from its tail feathers, according to a new study from the University of California-Berkeley. Using a high-speed camera, researchers recorded the display and were able to determine that the sound coincides with a brief spreading of the tail feathers--faster than the blink of an eye--that occurs at the low point of the dive. The noise emitted is not a whistle but a rapid vibration, not unlike the sound created by the reed of a clarinet. The study surmises that the tiny birds, which have tiny song boxes, or syrinxes, may have evolved the tail chirp to "escape the intrinsic constraints on vocal sound volume."

Join today and get a 1 year subscription to National Wildlife magazine
     Flickr Icon           Find NWF on Facebook.           Follow NWF on Twitter.           YouTube Icon    
Connecting...
Certify your yard today!