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South American bird does the moonwalk as part of its mating dance

By Aaron Leitko,

Ornithology

Song-and-dance show is for the birds

National Geographic, May

Cool dance moves and a sweet tune have always been a good way to impress the ladies. Even for birds, it turns out.

In May’s National Geographic, Dan Koepel profiles the club-winged manakin, which does the moonwalk. The bird, native to Colombia and Ecuador, has a mating dance that involves complex maneuvers including rapid backward steps that recall Michael Jackson’s signature move.

Its music is not exactly “Billie Jean,” though. To attract females, male manakins bat their wings together at about 107 times per second, generating a whine that recalls a dentist’s drill. (You can watch the manakin mating shtick at ngm.nationalgeographic.com.) Researchers say the manakins have a feather on each wing that acts like a guitar pick, plucking other feathers and causing them to vibrate, creating the noise.

— Aaron Leitko

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