Whether it’s a car alarm, a saw or a parrot: the gray-backed Australian harpsichord can mimic other species and everyday noises in a deceptively real way – the bird has been known for this for a long time.
Researchers have now found that the loud animal also has a mysterious sexual dance on its show. Researchers at the University of Wollongong report in the journal Ibis that discovering the remarkable ‘post-courtship’ performance of males made the sexual lives of harp birds more lively.
They’ve previously observed gray-backed harpsichords—also known as gorgeous harpsichords—in the Blue Mountains and in Victorian National Parks with hidden cameras. It was already known that males show courtship. However, it has now been shown that they remain active after mating, placing their tails above their heads and making regular clicking sounds while dancing away from the females. The tips of the feathers point towards the female and vibrate.
Many evolutionary explanations are conceivable for the behavior, says biologist Anastasia Dalziel. These ranged from needing to indicate the male’s individual identity, to urging the female to mate again, to trying to lull the female so she would be better at storing sperm.
“However, we suspect that male harpsichords with gray backs dance after copulation to persuade females to mate again,” says the expert. During the breeding season, each male builds a series of small mounds of soft ground that serves as a stage for performing sophisticated songs and dances.
Dalziell says the recent results are pretty surprising given how well researched harpsichords are. The dance looks like an “artistic invitation”. According to the researchers, the females remained calm after copulation, taking care of themselves and picking up the breast feathers that were lost during copulation.
Gray-brown harpsichords live only in Australia. The long and prominent tail feathers of the males gave it its name.
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