Birds use a variety of methods to communicate with each other, including vocalisation, beak tapping, courtship displays, flight patterns and nonvocal wing sounds. Numerous species of birds have the ability to create sounds that attract mates or warn of dangers. Changes in the spacing of feathers allow the air to pass through during flight to create different vibrations that result in an audible noise.
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Manakins have one of the most complex courtship rituals known to bird enthusiasts. They use a combination of whistles, chirps, aerial acrobatics, dancing and wing flap noises to attract a mate. The Manakin has specialised secondary feathers that have intricate ridges paired with stiff curved feathers to help create harmonic wing sounds. As reported by Kimberly Bostwick, curator of the bird and mammal collection in the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates, the feathers create a frequency of 1,500 Hz and the wing flapping causes a second harmonic noise.
The Anna's Hummingbird makes a distinct chirp as part of its mating ritual. As the bird plummets to the earth, a high pitched, chirping sound is emitted. This sound is nonvocal and arises as air crosses the vane and barbs of the outermost tail feathers. The frequency of the sound created averages around 4,100 Hz.
The male Common Nighthawk produces one of the loudest wing-originated noises. During courtship, the bird circles around the nesting site and then dives towards the ground. When the Nighthawk almost reaches the ground, it flexes the wings, allowing air to rush through the primary feathers. The resulting noise is a loud boom. In addition to courting, the boom acts as a warning when intruders are present.
The Short-eared Owl uses the actual fluttering of its wings for both breeding and warning. During the courtship display, the owl flaps its wings in a pattern followed by a clapping noise similar to the cracking of a whip. The noise created is a result of the carpal bones of the wing rubbing together. When used as a warning, the wing flapping increases in intensity and duration.
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- "Proceedings of the Royal Society"; Flights of Fear: A Mechanical Wing Whistle Sounds the Alarm in a Flocking Bird; M. Hingess, et al.; December 2009
- Science; Courting Bird Sings with Stridulating Wing Feathers; Kimberly S. Bostwick, et al.; July 2005
- "Proceedings of the Royal Society"; Resonating Feathers Produce Courtship Song; Kimberly S. Bostwick, et al.; November 2009
- Proceedings of the Royal Society"; The Anna's Hummingbird Chirps with its Tail: A New Mechanism of Sonation in Birds; Christopher Clark, et al.; April 2008
- Stanford University: Common Nighthawk
- Wild Owl: The Short-eared Owl