Bird Feathers "Sing"

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November 11, 2009—Male club-winged manakins vibrate their wings to create violin-like sounds to impress females, a new study says.

© 2009 National Geographic; Video courtesy the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York

Unedited Transcript:

A new study from Cornell University claims to have identified the first bird species that creates singing sounds with the feathers of their wings.

Deep in an Andean cloud-forest, this male club-winged manakin is courting females.

Kimberly Bostwick at Cornell set out to prove that the bird was using its wing feathers to create its violin-like sound.

Bostwick reports the manakin vibrates its wings at more than 100 cycles per second, twice the speed of hummingbirds.

Using lasers to monitor feather vibrations, Bostwick's team reports in Proceedings of the Royal Society that the manakins club-shaped feathers vibrate at 1500 hertz. This is the same frequency of the sound made by the manakin.

Bostwick theorizes that there are other birds that use their wings in this manner. She says more studies should be done.

In her report, Bostwick also points out that the new evidence places the Club-winged manakin with arthropods that also use their wings to produce singing sounds, such as the Castanet moth and many crickets.

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