Unsubtle Love Song


Female bellbirds lack a wattle and sing no songs. Anselmo d’Affonseca

Cara Giaimo provides additional perspective, perhaps the key question in the New York Times coverage of this story, which is about the female in this species, along with a great recording of the male’s call:

…One big mystery remains. The white bellbird sings its pile driver tune when a potential mate is nearby. It starts facing away from her, and then whips around to blast the loudest, record-setting note right into her face.

This choreography puzzles experts: Many other birds, including the famously elaborate satin bowerbird, actually tone down their displays once a female expresses interest, so as not to startle her.

The bellbird’s strategy “goes against expectations,” said Dr. Podos. “They just really seem to be socially awkward.”

“I am surprised that the loudest bird makes loud sounds when the female is so close,” said Nicole Creanza, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University who was not involved with the study. She said the findings went against her expectations, but called them “a great foundation for future research.”

Dr. Podos hopes to see whether such behavior actually helps male birds get mates.

“We never saw copulation — we never saw what a really good male does,” he said. “The ones we saw might have just been losers.”


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