If you’ve ever watched a documentary about birds of the Amazon rainforest chances are you’ve watched the amazing courtship displays of male manakins. These tiny birds put on an impressive display and at least 10 species can be seen in and around Manu National Park.
There are 60 species of manakins in total and almost all of them partake in ‘lekking’ or male courtship displays where they battle for the attention of females. However, unlike rutting stags and many other animals, manakins don’t physically fight each other. Instead the females judge them on their singing and dancing ability, how civilized! The most famous dance is probably that of the red-capped manakin, often described as ‘moonwalking’, and is perhaps one of the most bizarre things you’ll ever see. A tiny black bird with a bright red cap and bright yellow ‘trousers’ hops onto a branch and then proceeds to slide backwards, forwards and sideways along it without ever moving its legs, just like a miniature Michael Jackson.
But these birds don’t just moonwalk, some manakins have specialised wings that they can use to make snapping or clicking noises as they jump around their display branches, the blue-backed manakin literally performs backflips to attract a mate, and the tiny club-winged manakin sings with it’s wings. Charles Darwin was so impressed by the strangeness and variety of manakin dances that he wrote about them in the Descent of Man!
Isn’t nature wonderful?