Watch a peacock get a female’s attention—by making her head vibrate

Science | AAAS | 11/28/2018 | Staff
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When a peacock catches the attention of a female, he doesn’t just turn her head—he makes it vibrate. That’s the surprising conclusion of a new study, which finds that a male peafowl’s tail feathers create low-frequency sounds that cause feathers on the females’ heads to quiver.

The finding is “fascinating,” says Richard Prum, an evolutionary ornithologist at Yale University who was not involved with the work. As far as he knows, it’s the first demonstration that feathers respond to acoustic communication signals from other birds.

Scientists - Bird - Feathers - Vibrations - Rodent

Scientists have long known that a bird’s feathers can sense vibrations. Much like a rodent’s whiskers, they are coupled to vibration-sensitive nerve cells, allowing them to sense their surroundings. Feathers can, for example, detect changes in airflow during flight, and some seabirds even use feathers on their heads to feel their way through dark, underground crevices.

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When peacocks are ready to mate, they fan out their iridescent tail feathers (known as trains), before rushing at females, shaking those feathers to catch their attention.

Researchers - Low-frequency - Sounds—which - Years - Peahens

But when researchers discovered low-frequency sounds—which are inaudible to humans—coming from this “train-rattle” several years back, no one knew how they worked. All they knew was that peahens perked up and paid attention to recordings of these “infrasounds,” even though they couldn’t see the males.

To find out what was going on, Suzanne Kane, a biological physicist at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and her colleagues decided to look at the feathered crest on top of the peafowls’ heads. During her previous research, she was struck by the resemblance between the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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