Bird sings song with heavy wings

The only bird known to sing with its wings contains some secrets of its performance in its bones, researchers have found.

The club-winged manakin, which lives in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, performs a mate-attracting song by rubbing its wings together.

A Cornell University team from the US scanned its bones.

They found unlike most birds, it has dense, solid wing bones that help it to emit a violin-like sound.

Lead researcher Kim Bostwick, curator of birds and mammals at the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates, and her colleagues carried out CT scans of manakin wings.

These revealed that, while most birds have hollow wing bones, the club-winged manakin's are "bulky and solid".

Dr Bostwick thinks that having ridged, vibrating feathers attached to a solid, stiff mass is the best way to make sure the vibrations are emitted from the feather as sound, rather than being absorbed into the bone.

Her footage, along with analysis of the diminutive bird's anatomy, showed that manakins knock their wings together more than 100 times per second in order to sing.

When the wings meet, a specialised feather, with a stiff tip bent at a 45 degree angle, rubs against another feather that has seven separate ridges. This mechanism produces a mating call.

Similar performances are well known in the insect world, but nothing the same has been recorded in vertebrates before.


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