Hummingbirds ‘sing’ with their tail feathers to impress the females

IRES MSc student Emily Mistick was recently featured in a CBC Radio interview to discuss her research on Costa’s hummingbirds and their unique dive trajectory during courtship.

Most other species of hummingbirds attempt to court females by dive-bombing directly down at them.  This allows them to take advantage of the Doppler shift, making them sound faster and therefore much more attractive.

Costa’s hummingbirds, however, dive towards the side of females, meaning they are unable to take advantage of the Doppler shift.  To compensate for this, Costa’s hummingbirds twist half of their tail vertically during their dive, aiming the sound sideways towards the female.

Listen to Emily’s CBC radio interview here.

Paper in Current Biology here.


Male Costa’s hummingbirds, like the one shown here, court females using a high-speed dive in which they sing with their tail feathers. (Photo Credit: Christopher Clark, UC Riverside)