Weird mating behavior: Scientists capture tap-dancing songbird

Birds are known in the biological community for their numerous mating strategies, from the songs of a robin to the flashy feathers on a peacock’s tail. According to a report from the BBC, however, scientists from Japan and Germany have observed an entirely new form of avian mating behavior; a bird that attracts potential mates by tap-dancing.

Researchers found that male and female cordon-bleu birds match their mating call with an up-and-down dance that looks awfully like tap-dancing. The team used high-speed cameras to capture the behavior, spotting an intricate series of steps when they slowed the footage down.

The intensity of the birds’ dances increased over time if the two interested parties were perched on the same branch. Scientists believe that this is due to the vibrations of their bouncing, which causes an increased level of excitement in both individuals.

Researchers think that the dance adds another sensory stimulus to attract the attention of a potential mate. Whether it is a visual element or the actual bouncing that excites the birds is still unclear, but the strategy is believed to be unique to these birds in particular.

According to lead author Masayo Soma from Hokkaido University in Japan, “It’s a really rare phenomenon that songbirds produce non-vocal sounds. Some species produce non-vocal sounds with their wings, but they usually don’t use their feet.”

The researchers studied 16 blue-capped cordon-bleu birds, which are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Eight males and eight females were matched at random for two-hour sessions, which were recorded and analyzed by the team afterward.

The team found that roughly half of the birds in the study performed the tap-dancing routine, coming in short bursts of 3 to 4 steps each. A single step only lasted for six frames of the video, which translates to roughly 0.02 seconds.

The study was printed in the journal Nature, and can be read here.

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