29 March 2023
Wings aren’t just for flying
The mechanics behind bird flight have fascinated and inspired humans for centuries. From Leonardo da Vinci to the Wright Brothers, this seemingly effortless process has captivated and influenced some of the finest scientific and engineering minds in history.
Wings aren’t just for flying though. For some species, wings are also an integral part of courtship displays. The White-collared Manakin (Manacus candei) is just one example of a bird that uses its wings for more than just getting around. The mating dance of this colourful neotropical songbird includes a series of crisp wing snaps and buzzes produced by males as they flit between branches around the edge of their designated display arena. These birds are particularly finicky when it comes to selecting and preparing their personal dance floors. First, their chosen patch of forest has to be free from foliage; nobody wants to be smacked in the face by bushes when trying to impress a potential mate. Any leaf litter, twigs or other unwanted objects are then collected and moved out of the way, leaving a bare square of forest floor. When the dance-off finally gets underway, females in the area carefully watch the performances. If a female is impressed by a particular male, she will join his dance, following him as he moves between branches. Though appearing quite romantic on the surface, pair bonds are not formed after the mating display and males play no part in nest building, egg incubation or the rearing of young.
This recording of a White-collared Manakin was made in Costa Rica’s La Selva Biological Reserve on 13 March 1986 by Richard Ranft (see full catalogue record).
The wing snaps and buzzes produced by the male are clearly audible, though the bird itself was hidden from the recordist's view by the dense forest foliage. Several other species of manakin also incorporate wing snaps into their courtship rituals, a trait inherited from a distant common ancestor that, luckily for sound recordists, has stuck around.