Current Zoology(formerly Acta Zoologica Sinica), 2011, 57(2): 187 - 196
Wing, tail, and vocal contributions to the complex acoustic signals of courting Calliope hummingbirds
Christopher James CLARK
P e a b o d y M u s e u m o f N a t u r a l H i s t o r y , Y a l e U n i v e r s i t y , U S A
Multi-component signals contain multiple signal parts expressed in the same physical modality. One way to identify individual components is if they are produced by different physical mechanisms. Here, I studied the mechanisms generating acoustic signals in the courtship displays of the Calliope hummingbird Stellulacalliope. Display dives consisted of three synchronized sound elements, a high-frequency tone (hft), a low frequency tone (lft), and atonal sound pulses (asp), which were then followed by a frequency-modulated fall. Manipulating any of the rectrices (tail-feathers) of wild males impaired production of the lft and asp but not the hft or fall, which are apparently vocal. I tested the sound production capabilities of the rectrices in a wind tunnel. Single rectrices could generate the lft but not the asp, whereas multiple rectrices tested together produced sounds similar to the asp when they fluttered and collided with their neighbors percussively, representing a previously unknown mechanism of sound production. During the shuttle display, a trill is generated by the wings during pulses in which the wingbeat frequency is elevated to 95 Hz, 40% higher than the typical hovering wingbeat frequency. The Calliope hummingbird courtship displays include sounds produced by three independent mechanisms, and thus include a minimum of three acoustic signal components. These acoustic mechanisms have different constraints and thus potentially contain different messages. Producing multiple acoustic signals via multiple mechanisms may be a way to escape the constraints present in any single mechanism [Current Zoology 57 (2): 187–196, 2011].