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  • Writer's pictureKate Winstanley

We will rock you - the dance of the blue manakin

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

Blue manakins are the undisputed rock stars of the bird world in Ilha Grande. Groups of males - with a young male standing in as a female - will perform a courtship dance or “lek” on a daily basis in a female's territory hoping to attract her into the lek. The aim is of course to impress the female sufficiently that she will allow one - just one - to mate with her. And only 10% of males will ever mate. Women the world over really could learn from this little bird!

The male blue manakin is a simply stunning little bird – about the size of a European robin - with a vibrant red crown and a blue body apart from its black head, wings and tail. He has a distinctive rounded shape with a small beak and short stubby tail with a long tail feather. The sub adult males have greenish feathers in place of the bright blue of the adult.The female is a rather dullish olive green with large round eyes - all the better to see her suitors with. She is one lucky bird!

I have seen the courtship dance a few times now and each time it appeared to be a practice one as there was no female in sight. The build-up to the actual dance consists of frenetic feeding activity with acrobatic hovering and whirring of wings by several males in close vicinity to each other before they join one another in a line on a branch, still making strange clicking noises and whirring their wings. Here the energetic behaviour continues but in an amazing synchronised display. One male will jump up and down on the branch, wings whirring and clicking and then hovers in the air before flying to the end of the line which shuffles sideways to allow the next male to perform the same jumping, whirring and hovering dance moves. The dance - which lasts a good few minutes - culminates in a series of explosive pops.

The excellent Birdwatching site ( explains the curious insect-like clicking, popping and whirring that precedes and accompanies the dance thus: “The non-vocal sounds produced by the males of many manakin species involve wing movements, which can be enhanced by structurally modified inner wing feathers (secondaries). Sounds vary widely and include whirrs, clicks, snaps, and pops. The sounds are produced by combinations of air moving through the feathers, wingtips slicing through the air leaving a vacuum to be filled by rushing air, or wing feathers striking their bodies or scraping fanned tail feathers. The loudest pops occur when the backs of the wings strike each other above the bird.”

Their preference for really deep shade unfortunately makes it really difficult to get a decently lit photograph. As I did not succeed in getting at least one decent photo/ video of the dance before I left the island I shall have to return! In the meantime here is a video of the dance narrated by the legendary David Attenborough. Enjoy!

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