Peacocks Shake Booty to Mesmerize Onlookers

A male peacock undulate its tail feathers in such a way that the 'eyes' of the feathers remain still and can mesmerize captivated females. Continue reading →

Male peacocks use smooth moves and dazzling visuals to attract females -- along with sounds that humans can't hear.

With seemingly just a few booty or wing twitches, the birds can shake their trains 25 times per second while keeping their feathers' iridescent eyespots nearly still. The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE, and are outlined in a series of videos:

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Lead author Roslyn Dakin and her team wrote that the male's careful motions allow "the colorful iridescent eyespots - which strongly influence female mate choice - to remain nearly stationary against a dynamic iridescent background."

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The researchers watched the male peacock displays in slow motion and Dakin, a zoologist at the University of British Columbia, and her team studied the structure and movement of individual male peacock feathers.

The iridescent trains are actually located, not at the tail, but on the backs of males. The displays, however, involve rear end shaking, wing shaking and what the researchers call "train rattling." During the latter, the male birds may strum their tail feathers against the back of the train.

Humans only hear rustling, which seems rather dull. Prior research, however, found that the movement produces infrasound, meaning that the sound waves are too low-pitched for us to properly detect. Female peacocks known as peahens are hard-wired to hear such sounds, however, and appear to often be captivated by them.

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The eyespots account for at least 50 percent of the male peacock's wooing success, though, according to the researchers. Scanning electron microscopy showed that the eyespot barbs - consisting of the hair-like branches on the feather shaft - are locked together with microhooks. This gives each eyespot greater density than the surrounding loose barbs, keeping them essentially in place as the loose barbs shimmer in the background.

The movement of the feathers, according to the authors, has properties similar to that of a guitar string. Both are flexible and produce particular sounds depending on how they are manipulated.

The scientists further determined that the longer a male's train feathers are, the faster the hopeful males shook them during courtship displays. This requires more muscular effort, and suggests the dynamics of feather vibrations could also signal male muscle power to choosy females.

British naturalist Charles Darwin documented the male peacock's remarkable display in his book on sexual selection, "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex." He was not very impressed with the sound produced during the peacock's effort, though.

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Darwin wrote: "Peacocks and Birds of Paradise rattle their quills together, and the vibratory movement apparently serves merely to make noise, for it can hardly add to the beauty of the plumage."

The new paper counters the view that the sound is just meaningless "noise," as the produced sound, the mesmerizing eyespots, shimmering feathers and other features of the display appear to all work in concert.

"Charles Darwin observed that peacocks vibrate their feathers during courtship," co-author Suzanne Kane said in a press release, "but it took this multidisciplinary team of scientists to characterize the dynamics of this behavior."

Photo: Male peacock courting a female. Credit: Roslyn Dakin PLOS ONE e0152759

See this bird? Hard not to, right? It's

caused quite a stir

in a Brooklyn neighborhood this week. It's a male painted bunting, a showy finch that's not usually seen in the area. He's drawn crowds of onlookers -- both dedicated and casual birders alike. If he knows he's been trending on Facebook lately, he chooses to pretend he doesn't. In this bright bird's honor, we thought we'd celebrate a few other fliers with flashy feathers. Enjoy!

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Check out this king vulture. The fleshy orange lump on its beak is called a caruncle. Its function is, as in so many other features in nature, a purely ornamental way to attract the ladies. It would make a good guest host on The Muppets.

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This male Mandarin duck is also looking full to bursting with color. Native to East Asia, this one's a female, evident from the white tip on the end of her otherwise red bill.

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Kingfishers can bring the flash, too. Neat fact: Kingfishers nest in cavities, often holes underground. Some kingfishers nest in vacated termite nests.

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The keel-billed toucan can reach nearly 2 feet long, including its bill, and weigh around 1 pound. The tree-perching experts have feet with toes that point in different directions - the better to cling with. Its bill is just hollow bone and not at all as big of a pain as it looks like for them to carry around.

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Here's another striking bird,the common green magpie, and there's nothing common about its plumage.

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How could we not include a peacock, if we're interested in displaying dazzling bird colors?

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Make way for a blue-and-yellow macaw! The parrot makes its home in forests and woods in tropical South America. It can talk, it gets along well with humans, and it can reach nearly 3 feet long and weigh up to 3 pounds. There's not a lot of variation in the coloring of blue-and-yellow macaws. They're pretty much, well, blue and yellow. But even with standard-issue colors they're stunning all the same.

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The only thing better than one parrot is a collection of four, gathering to compare plumage, trade stock tips, and catch up on each other's weekends.

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Can you guess what this bird is called? If you said "hey, DNews, it's a red crested turaco," you'd be right! Did you also know it's the national bird of Angola? It sounds a bit like a monkey when it makes its calls in the jungle, and it's red crest is such a dazzler that this ginger-topped bird has it in its name.

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