Courtship display of male and female blue-capped cordon-bleus recorded with normal and high-speed video camera. (Nao Ota)

Yeah, yeah — birds sing. But some birds also dance.


[Mice sing just like birds, but we can’t hear them]

In a study published Thursday in Scientific Reports, researchers show that the blue-capped cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus cyanocephalus) uses fancy footwork to find love. The "tap dancing," as the researchers call it, happens too quickly for humans to notice — but that's what slow motion video is for.

Courtship display of a male red-cheeked cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus) with normal and high-speed video camera (Nao Ota et al. Scientific Reports)

What's especially cool is that the dancing isn't a guys-only ritual. Unlike most bird courtship gestures, this one is practiced by both sexes. That's in line with the previously known blue-capped cordon-bleu behavior: Both sexes are known to hold sticks, sing, and bob their heads when trying to woo a mate, which is unusual.

[Scientists show that drunk birds ‘slur’ their songs]

The researchers wanted to know more about the species' methods of courtship, because it's unusual for a bird couple to use both song and dance. But there turned out to be more to the cordon-bleu groove than some head bobbing — the high-speed cameras the researchers used revealed rapid foot stomping that seemed to follow the rhythmic patterns of the birds' singing. Such "tap dancing" has never been seen in a bird before, according to the study.

Courtship display of blue-capped cordon-bleus with normal and high-speed video camera. (Nao Ota et al. Scientific Reports.)

Another surprise came when they analyzed the dances. The researchers expected the males to have longer or more impressive dance routines. That's because female birds are known to be choosier with their mates, even when both sexes participate in mating displays and the species practices social monogamy.

[New study asks why birds fall in love]

Not so for the blue-capped cordon-bleu, apparently, because the dances varied more from bird to bird than from one sex to the other. Both sexes coordinate their steps to create a song that features both vocal and non-vocal sounds, and both sexes seem to up the ante when they're standing on the same branch as a potential mate — probably because they know their sweetheart can feel the good vibes.

Putting the utter adorableness of a tap dancing lovebird aside, the findings leave a lot of good questions for the researchers to try to answer in the future. For starters, the researchers will try to figure out how the bird brains manage to coordinate their singing, bobbing, and footwork all at once. And in a world full of male birds strutting their stuff to compete for females, it's worth wondering why some species — and this one in particular — have stayed so egalitarian.

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