Resonating feathers produce courtship song

Kimberly S. Bostwick, Damian O. Elias, Andrew Mason, Fernando Montealegre-Z

Abstract

Male Club-winged Manakins, Machaeropterus deliciosus (Aves: Pipridae), produce a sustained tonal sound with specialized wing feathers. The fundamental frequency of the sound produced in nature is approximately 1500 Hz and is hypothesized to result from excitation of resonance in the feathers' hypertrophied shafts. We used laser Doppler vibrometry to determine the resonant properties of male Club-winged Manakin's wing feathers, as well as those of two unspecialized manakin species. The modified wing feathers exhibit a response peak near 1500 Hz, and unusually high Q-values (a measure of resonant tuning) for biological objects (Q up to 27). The unmodified wing feathers of the Club-winged Manakin do not exhibit strong resonant properties when measured in isolation. However, when measured still attached to the modified feathers (nine feathers held adjacent by an intact ligament), they resonate together as a unit near 1500 Hz, and the wing produces a second harmonic of similar or greater amplitude than the fundamental. The feathers of the control species also exhibit resonant peaks around 1500 Hz, but these are significantly weaker, the wing does not resonate as a unit and no harmonics are produced. These results lend critical support to the resonant stridulation hypothesis of sound production in M. deliciosus.

Footnotes

  • Present address: Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, 137 Mulford Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.

    • Received August 31, 2009.
    • Accepted October 22, 2009.
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