Nature is truly fascinating, even when some of its amazing feats are invisible to the naked eye. However, scientists were able to catch a glimpse of the invisible by using high-speed video cameras, and the result is rather impressive.
- Songbirds’ quick-step was caught on high-speed video footage
- Birds usually use their voices – and sometimes wings – to woo mates, not feet
- Japan and Germany team studied 16 specimens of cordon-bleu birds
- A single step lasted 20 milliseconds (0.02 seconds), making it invisible to the naked human eye
It turns out that both male and female cordon-bleu birds perform a super-fast “tap-dance” by stamping their feet and singing to their potential mates. The research conducted by a team from Japan and Germany has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The songbirds were spotted performing the remarkable quick-step while both the male and the female were on the same perch, which led the team to believe the courtship ritual has something to do with the vibrations caused, adding a tactile element to encourage mating.
But because scientists are not sure yet what it means, other hypotheses exist, such as the dancing standing in as a musical accompaniment for the song, or simply a visual display. Others believe the quick rat-a-tat is part of the wooing strategy attempting to stimulate multiple senses.
It’s rather unusual for songbirds to use anything else but their voices to produce sounds, according to leading author Masayo Soma, from Hokkaido University in Japan. Some species are known to use their wings for non-vocal sounds, but this might be the first time when feet are involved in the show.
As surprising as this discovery might be, co-author Manfred Gahr of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, thinks there’s a chance more songbirds are doing it, but our naked eye has just missed it. Dr. Soma and her colleagues in Japan were the first interested in studying the birds under the “microscope” of the high-speed cameras.
The species studied by the team are the waxbill native to sub-Saharan Africa; eight males and eight females of blue-capped cordon-bleus were paired randomly for multiple two-hour sessions, resulting in roughly 200 hours of footage. Dr. Soma said it was rather difficult to get the picky birds interested in performing the courtship “dance.”
Watching the slow-motion footage was indeed fascinating, said the team. Both blue-capped and red-cheeked cordon-bleus (pictured) are amazing quick-step performers. Stopping the footage frame by frame revealed that a single step lasted 20 milliseconds (0.02 seconds), and they come in bursts of three or four very rapid steps.
Image Source: Lynxeds