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Birds of a feather … don’t always make sounds together

By Gary Bogue
Thursday, February 14th, 2008 at 8:13 am in Birds, Sound.

There’s lots more to bird feathers than just keeping birds warm and waterproof and making them look pretty.
“The Anna’s hummingbird chirps with its tail: a new mechanism of sonation in birds,” was recently published by Christopher Clark and Teresa Feo from UC Berkeley.

Basically, when the male Anna’s hummingbird is in the middle of its dramatic courtship display — in a 100-foot high-speed dive, straight down — it makes a series of chirps to help attract female Anna’s hummingbirds. (As if those amazing dives aren’t enough!)

It was once thought that those sounds were vocal, but this study now appears to show that the sounds are made when wind passes across the edges of certain feathers. It makes them buzz rapidly when the male hummingbird spreads his tail as he pulls up at the bottom of his dive. It’s kind of like when a kid holds a leaf between his fingers and blows across it to produce a loud SQUEAK!

For the whole story see:

The squeaky sound mourning doves make when they take off is produced the same way when wind passes over special feathers on the doves’ wings. The faster the doves flap their wings, the higher the pitch of the squeaks.

Interestingly, owls use their feathers for the exact opposite action — to NOT make any sounds.

Since they hunt at night when it’s dark, owls have to be sneaky hunters. To help them, owl feathers have soft, fringed edges, as opposed to daytime birds whose feathers have hard edges. The fringed (fuzzy) owl feathers muffle the sounds of the air as it passes over them when the owl is flying.

Nothing can hear an owl when it’s flying, not even a mouse. Too bad for the mouse.

Mother Nature is one very clever lady, don’t you think? /Gary

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4 Responses to “Birds of a feather … don’t always make sounds together”

  1. Pat in Antioch Says:

    Hi Gary,
    Hummingbirds are such interesting little guys! I know the “ticking” noise mine makes at the feeder, and the loud buzz of his wings when he passes by at close range is unmistakable (scared the heck out of me the first time-I imagined a GIGANTIC bee :-), but I’ve now discovered a third sound. It’s especially noticeable when he’s in the tree in the back yard. I’m not even sure how to describe it; just a basic chatter I guess. I like to think it means he’s happy with his surroundings! (He’s now trying to guard 2 feeders at opposite ends of the yard-quite comical to watch!!

    Pat in Antioch


  2. Mike "troll" Dame Says:

    i didnt know they made a noise at the end of them dives that cool and even cooler that its done with feathers amazing.

    Pat in Antioch ive been hearing that chattery song lately out side my bedroom window as im waking up, lovely way to start the day.

  3. bhf Says:

    I always hear the chatter when I get close to the feeder, especially when I unhook it to clean it and add new sugar water. I am thinking it is the Hummingbirds way of saying that “the feeder is his property, keep your hands off!”

  4. Pat in Antioch Says:

    It IS a lovely way to start the day Mike; I love all the birds in my yard, but the little Hummy is by far my favorite!!

    You could be right Bhf-they’re the most possessive little guys I’ve ever run across!!


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