Tiny Bird Dances Like it's 'Been Shot Out of a Cannon' (Video)

golden-collared manakin photo
Original photo: Wikipedia Commons

Often when biologists are charged with detailing the newly recorded behavior of some exotic species, the language can get pretty science-y -- but dusty old descriptors can't suffice when talking about a particularly tiny bird's incredible courtship ritual. Recently, researchers filmed the dazzling 'dance' of a golden-collared manakin, which one scientist described as thus: "The male jumps like he's been shot out of a cannon. It's exquisite. He sails like an acrobat and lands perfectly on a perch, like a gymnast landing a flawless dismount."

Or in other words, '10'.Clearly, UCLA ecology and evolutionary biology professor Barney Schlinger is smitten with the tiny bird, native to Central America -- though that's the dance's desired affect. According to the research team, the male golden-collared manakin's courtship acrobatics are designed to display his remarkably quick motor-skills. After all, the female manakins love nothing more than a fast dancer.

To reach their cannonball-like speed, the researchers discovered that the bird's heart rate more than doubles, from around 600 beats a minutes to up to 1,300.

The study's lead researcher, graduate student Julia Barske, recently caught the rapid-fire dance moves on film and discovered that the winning display often comes down to the wire, and that female manakins are really quite observant. "Julia's data show that the females select the males that completed elements of the courtship dance in 50 milliseconds over the males that took 80 milliseconds," Schlinger tells US News.

"Our data suggest the courtship display is a proxy for survival capability," says the researcher. "To survive in the wild, it's an advantage to have extra neuromuscular capability. Being faster can enable a golden-collared manakin to escape a predator."

The report continues:

During the courtship dance, several males gather together in a small area, and each jumps from small tree to small tree while making a fast, powerful, loud snapping sound with his wings. He also does this wing-snap while perched. When the male lands on a perch, he rapidly turns to expose his feathers to the female.

It is "intense, physically elaborate, complex, accurate, fast behavior," Schlinger said.

For Schlinger, the courtship ritual was so impressive the first time he saw it that he's now been studying golden-collared manakin's "fantastic behavior" for the last 16 years. They may not all be fast enough to win-over a female manakin with their lightening fast, cannonball style dance display -- but the tiny birds have won the devotion of at least one researcher.

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