Research highlight

Evolution: Tap dancing birds

Scientific Reports

November 19, 2015

Male and female blue-capped cordon-bleu songbirds 'tap dance' as part of their courtship displays, according to a study in Scientific Reports this week. Using high-speed video technology the authors were able to observe this behaviour, which is normally invisible to the naked eye, for the first time.

The blue-capped cordon-bleu is a socially monogamous songbird and is one of the few species in which both sexes perform courtship displays. During these displays, the birds hold a piece of nesting material in their beaks and sing, while bobbing up and down to produce rhythmical sounds.

Masayo Soma and colleagues analysed the courtship displays of 16 blue-capped cordon-bleu songbirds using high-speed video-cameras. The authors found that both male and female birds performed rapid steps during courtship displays, which cannot normally be seen. In a single bobbing motion, each bird would hop, with their head pointed upwards, and stamp their feet several times. They also noted that in both sexes the intensity of the dance performances increased when their mate was on the same perch.

The authors suggest that the stepping behaviour enables the birds to communicate in these courtship displays via multiple methods (specifically acoustic, visual and tactile signals). They also found that the timing of the steps appeared to be coordinated with the songs. Further studies are required to investigate how singing, bobbing and stepping behaviours are coordinated within individuals and between partners.

doi: 10.1038/srep16614

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