On first glance, the courtship of the blue-capped cordon-bleu songbirds looks rather uneventful. The birds, perched next to each other, begin singing and nervously hop.
But on closer inspection, they appear to be doing the avian version of a tap dance. Researchers, armed with high-speed cameras, were able to slow things down and catch this behavior that until now had gone undetected.
The authors, writing in the journal Scientific Reports Thursday, found that both male and female birds performed rapid steps during courtship displays. The dance had several moves - a single bobbing motion followed by hopping with their heads pointed upwards, and, finally, a stamp of their feet several times. This singing and dancing, they said, seemed to be coordinated and the birds often hold nesting material in their beaks for added effect.
So what’s behind this complicated display?
The authors suggest the stepping behavior enables the birds to get their message of love across in various ways – whether that be singing the praises of their romantic interest or simply impressing with their dance moves. They also found that the bobbing “seemed to exaggerate the sexually dimorphic plumage of their heads and nesting materials that they hold.”
The blue-capped cordon-bleu is a socially monogamous songbird and is one of the few species in which both sexes perform courtship displays. They are widespread across East Africa, including in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania.