The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, July 1, 2001

Manakins sing duet to entice females
Nutan Shukla

MANAKINS are known for some of the most extraordinary courtship displays in the bird world.

During breeding season, all males come together in the display areas called ‘lek’. Males of one species take over the possession of one ‘lek’ where birds from different species are not permitted to perform. Each male first chooses a patch of forest floor for himself and then cleans it up, removing all twigs and leaves. After operation clean-up is complete, males start their displays which include rapid flights. They dash between perches, swooping and diving, uttering short, sharp calls and snapping together their special wing feathers to make cracking sounds.

Among these birds, the blue-backed manakin has a very unique and interesting way of enticing a female. For the purpose, not one, but two males sing and dance together and both of them sing such similar and well-timed songs that both the songs appear to be coming from one bird. But carefully done sound-recordings have revealed that the dominant male among the two starts each note about one-twentieth of a second before the other. When the duet starts influencing the female and she responds by coming closer, the dominant signals his partner to leave by changing his tune.

Sperm whales have a whale of a time
June 17, 2001
They use projectiles to catch prey
May 27, 2001
These insects lure the prey with light
May 20, 2001
Predators in the deep seas
April 29, 2001
They know how to entrap
April 15, 2001
Small creatures with a big sting
April 1, 2001
These legendary birds of paradise are exotic
March 18, 2001
They don’t believe in being faithful
March 4, 2001

They use sound to kill
February 18, 2001

How birds defend their territories
February 4, 2001
Cheetahs hunt with speed
January 21, 2001

In another species of wire-tailed manakin, males perform typical display by backing towards the female and wiggling his rear portion in such a way that the two long, wire-like tail feathers rub the female under her chin.

Manakins have about 53 species which are found in Central and South America. They are mainly black birds with coloured heads and crowns. They are small-sized, stocky, short-tailed birds which have short wings. Their beak is also short, broad, but slightly hooked. Inhabiting tropical forests and feeding on fruits and insects, their short legs have the centre toe fused basally to the second or fourth toe. These birds nest in bushes.

Pittas, not related to manakins, build their rounded nests with side entrance on the ground or in low bushes in the rain forests, bamboo thickets and in mangroves. Males and females both share parental duties, but they often chase away their young as soon as they are big enough to leave the nest. If the young are threatened, while still in the nest, the parents hide the entrance with leaves and twigs, then trick the predator away from their dwelling by calling loudly and moving off through the dense undergrowth of the forests.

There are 25 species of pittas, out of which at least eight migrate at night. Even more curious is the fact that these birds travel during the new moon unlike many other song birds, who prefer the full moon. These birds are found in Africa, Asia and Australia. They are small, plump, brightly coloured birds with short tails, short, rounded wings and strong, slightly curved bills. Inhabiting jungle and forest scrubs, their legs are long and the feet are large. Feeding mainly on insects, they are secretive, solitary and terrestrial birds which can hop rapidly. Their nests are round with a side entrance and are placed on the ground or in low bushes.

The Indian pitta, known as naorang in Hindi, is a gaudy coloured, stub-tailed, myna-sized bird having green, blue, fulvous, black and white plumage, with crimson on the abdomen and under the tail. A round white spot near the tip of its wings flashes conspicuously during flight. It is fond of nullahs and ravines in scrub jungle with plenty of undergrowth, and may be found both near and away from human habitations. Though mainly terrestrial, it roosts at night in trees. It moves on the ground in long hops like a thrust, turning over or flicking aside head leaves and digging with its bill for food. The stumpy tail is constantly wagged, slowly and deliberately, up and down.

Its commonest call is a loud, clear, double whistle ‘wheet-tew’ uttered chiefly in the early morning and at dusk, but also at other times in cloudy overcast weather. It is given at the rate of about three to four calls in 10 seconds, and the calling is sometimes kept up for over five minutes at a stretch.


This feature was published on June 24, 2001