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Club-winged Manakin Picture

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The Club-winged Manakin (Machaeropterus deliciosus) is a small passerine bird which is a resident breeding species in the cloud forest on the western slopes of the Andes Mountains of Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. The manakins are a family (Pipridae) of small bird species of subtropical and tropical Central and South America.

Music-making mechanism

Like several other manakins, the Club-winged Manakin produces a mechanical sound with its extremely modified secondary remiges. The manakins have adapted their wings in this odd way as a result of sexual selection. Charles Darwin noted how females could cause evolutionary change simply by the influence of their mating preferences. Thus, in manakins, the males have evolved adaptations to suit the females' attraction towards sound. Wing sounds in many manakin lineages, however, have evolved independently. Some species pop like a firecracker, and there are a couple that makes whooshing noises in flight. The Club-winged Manakin, with its unique ability to produce musical sounds, is indisputably the most extreme example of sexual selection in manakins.

Each wing of the Club-winged Manakin has one feather with a series of at least seven ridges along its central vane. Next to the strangely ridged feather is another feather with a stiff, curved tip. When the bird raises its wings over its back, it shakes them back and forth over 100 times a second (hummingbirds typically flap their wings only 50 times a second). Each time it hits a ridge, the tip produced a sound. The tip strikes each ridge twice: once as the feathers collide, and once as they move apart again. This raking movement allows a wing to produce 14 sounds during each shake. By shaking its wings 100 times a second, the Club-winged Manakin can produce up to 1,400 single sounds during that time.

While this sort of spoon-and-washboard anatomy to produce sounds is well-known in insects - see stridulation -, it has never been documented before in vertebrates (some snakes stridulate too, but they do not have dedicated anatomical features for it). The discovery, made by Kimberly Bostwick, a Cornell University ornithologist, was published in the 29 July 2005 issue of Science. Bostwick argues that the new findings underscore just how powerful sexual selection can be. The mating preferences of female birds can produce not only the peacock's tail or the rooster's crow, but also feathers with microscopic adaptations that let them sing like crickets.

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