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Home » Learn Stuff, Videos

Club-winged Manakin Has Feathers That Sing

Submitted by on February 9, 2010 – 10:30 pm2 Comments

The Club-winged Manakin uses it feathers to create a violin-like sound to impress the females!

Kimberly Boswick’s studies of the Club-winged Manakin revealed that the bird makes an almost perfect 1,500 Hz tone. In order to do this, the bird moves a club shaped wing feather over a ridged wing feather  approximately 107 times per second. That’s faster than a hummingbird’s wingbeat and even faster than was previously thought to be possible for a vertebrate!

This movement is similar to how a bow moves over the strings of a violin to produce sound.

Kimberly Boswick describes a violin:

The violin is a refined instrument. Producing sound with a violin is more complicated than drumming (beating two things together) or whistling (simply forcing air through thin structures). Violins involve friction. Violins have resonance chambers. Violins require one structure moving across another structure, like a bow across a string. Violins involve “frequency multiplication,” a fancy term used to convey that one motion, such as the drawing of a bow across a string, translates to many motions, such as the fine sticking and slipping of the string on the bow which creates thousands of vibrations in the string itself.

Since the Club-winged Manakin is moving it’s wings at approximately 107 times per second, it needs to utilize some sort of “frequency multiplication” to produce the 1,500 Hz tone. The seven ridges on its ridged wing feather make this possible.

Kimberly Boswick:

The Club-winged Manakin is a bird with a pair of violins built into its wings. The wide, ridged feathers form the body of the violin and the thin, kinked feathers next to them forms the bow. When male manakins knock their wings together across their backs over and over again in a rapid cycle, the momentum from the heavier-than-usual feather shafts causes the bow (club shaped) feather to slide first inward across the ridged feather, then outward. This generates friction and vibration. The seven ridges generate seven knocks on the way in and seven on the way out, which adds up to that frequency multiplier of 14 needed to explain the discrepancy between the rate of feather knocking and the frequency of the sound heard. The fat hollow feather resonates at this stimulated frequency, and out comes the unique sound of the Club-winged Manakin.

So multiplying everything out, 14 times 107 equals 1,498! Almost exactly 1,500 Hz!

Here’s another video that really slows the bird down! In this video you can actually see the wings vibrating together. Wow!

  • Sue Schulte

    hard to imagine how much energy this little bird uses.

  • Andrew

    Has to be a lot. Those wings move so fast!