The National Wildlife Federation

Donate Donate

Say It with Feathers

All to impress a female

  • Hannah Schardt
  • Jun 01, 2008
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."

Get Involved

   Please leave this field empty

2019 Photo Contest Now Open!

The National Wildlife® Photo Contest celebrates the power of photography to advance conservation and connect people with wildlife and the outdoors.

Enter Today
Antelope Canyons