"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015

RETURN TO THE WORLD SCIENCE HOME PAGE


Bird has different dance for different songs

June 7, 2013
Courtesy of Cell Press 
and World Science staff

When male su­perb lyre­birds sing, they of­ten move their bod­ies to the mu­sic in a chore­ographed way, say re­search­ers who re­port their find­ings in the jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­o­gy on June 6. 

The find­ings add to ev­i­dence from hu­man cul­tures around the world that mu­sic and dance are deeply in­ter­twined ac­ti­vi­ties, the sci­en­tists add.

A male superb lyrebird. (Credit: Alex Maisey)


“Like hu­mans, male su­perb lyre­birds have dif­fer­ent dance move­ments to go with dif­fer­ent songs,” said An­a­sta­sia Dalziell of Aus­tral­ian Na­t­ional Uni­vers­ity.

Superb lyre­birds, about the size of phea­sants, are found in the for­ests of south­east­ern Aus­tra­lia. 

“Just as we ‘waltz’ to waltz mu­sic but ‘sal­sa’ to salsa mu­sic, so lyre­birds step side­ways with their tail spread out like a veil to one song—which sounds like a 1980s video-arcade game—while they jump and flap their wings with their tail in a mo­hawk po­si­tion while sing­ing a qui­et ‘plinkety-plinkety-plinkety.’”

The lyre­birds’ dance move­ments are a vol­un­tary em­bel­lish­ment to their sing­ing; in oth­er words, they can and do sing with­out danc­ing, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors added. Some­times they al­so make mis­takes in their danc­ing, an ob­serva­t­ion that sug­gests to Dalziell and her col­leagues that danc­ing is chal­leng­ing for the birds, just as it is for us hu­mans (some more than oth­ers).

As much as peo­ple love to dance, the ac­ti­vity is even more cru­cial for the birds, Dalziell said. Be­fore they can mate, males must im­press females with their danc­ing. They put a lot of work in­to their dances, with years of prac­tice be­fore they reach matur­ity. 

In the breed­ing sea­son, female lyre­birds will vis­it sev­er­al dif­fer­ent males to watch their song-and-dance rou­tines. Ex­actly what those females are look­ing for is still any­one’s guess. “Some­times af­ter what seems to me to be a per­fectly won­der­ful dis­play by a ma­le, I watch a female leave and check out his neigh­bor,” Dalziell said.


* * *

Send us a comment on this story, or send it to a friend









Sign up for
e-newsletter
   
 
subscribe
 
cancel

On Home Page         

LATEST

  • St­ar found to have lit­tle plan­ets over twice as old as our own

  • “Kind­ness curricu­lum” may bo­ost suc­cess in pre­schoolers

EXCLUSIVES

  • Smart­er mice with a “hum­anized” gene?

  • Was black­mail essen­tial for marr­iage to evolve?

  • Plu­to has even cold­er “twin” of sim­ilar size, studies find

  • Could simple an­ger have taught people to coop­erate?

MORE NEWS

  • F­rog said to de­scribe its home through song

  • Even r­ats will lend a help­ing paw: study

  • D­rug may undo aging-assoc­iated brain changes in ani­mals

When male superb lyrebirds sing, they often move their bodies to the music in a choreographed way, say researchers who report their findings in the journal Current Biology on June 6. The findings add to evidence from human cultures around the world that music and dance are deeply intertwined activities, the scientists say. “Like humans, male superb lyrebirds have different dance movements to go with different songs,” said Anastasia Dalziell of Australian National University. “Just as we ‘waltz’ to waltz music but ‘salsa’ to salsa music, so lyrebirds step sideways with their tail spread out like a veil to one song—which sounds like a 1980s video-arcade game—while they jump and flap their wings with their tail in a mohawk position while singing a quiet ‘plinkety-plinkety-plinkety.’“ The lyrebirds’ dance movements are a voluntary embellishment to their singing; in other words, they can and do sing without dancing, the investigators added. Sometimes they also make mistakes in their dancing, an observation that suggests to Dalziell and her colleagues that dancing is challenging for the birds, just as it is for us humans (some more than others). As much as people love to dance, the activity is even more crucial for the birds, Dalziell said. Before they can mate, males must impress females with their dancing. They put a lot of work into their dances, with years of practice before they reach maturity. In the breeding season, female lyrebirds will visit several different males to watch their song-and-dance routines. Exactly what those females are looking for is still anyone’s guess. “Sometimes after what seems to me to be a perfectly wonderful display by a male, I watch a female leave and check out his neighbor,” Dalziell said.