Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Shake your Tail Feather

Flit from Pocahontas!

Almost everyone can agree that hummingbirds are cuuuuute (as evidenced above). We know that hummingbirds sing, but did you also know that certain species can create music using only their tail feathers? Last year, this study was published in order to more fully understand how this happens.

It turns out that only male hummingbirds produce the "songs" and, of course, they do it to impress the lady hummingbirds during a mating dance: they fly high up into the air and then shoot down like a rocket, produce the sounds, and presumably, capture the lady bird's heart.

Using wind tunnels, the researchers recreated this courtship dive and discovered that several feathers on the edges of the bird's tails vibrate, creating sound waves. The reason that these sound waves are so loud (for such a tiny bird) is that the feathers vibrate together, creating sympathetic vibrations; in other words, the sound waves stack on top of each other and increase loudness.

In reality, the "song" created by the tail feathers is really more of a small chirp (the video below plays this sound a couple of times times before the narrator comes in), but it is still quite an impressive and unique evolutionary perk!


  1. That is really interesting that a hummingbird is able to do that with its feathers. How did they determine that the R5 and R4 wings were the only two that really mattered to the noise? Great video for showing how the test was approached and taken on.


  2. Interesting article you might want to check out: