Skip to main content
No Access

Why Do Calypte Hummingbirds “Sing” with Both Their Tail and Their Syrinx? An Apparent Example of Sexual Sensory Bias

Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720

Courtship displays frequently include complex signals that females use to pick a mate. Male Costa’s hummingbirds (Calypte costae) generate two acoustic signals during courtship: a vocal song produced close to a female and a dive‐sound produced during a courtship dive. The song and dive‐sound sound similar, and both were assumed to be produced vocally by the syrinx. Here, we show that they are not; whereas the song is produced by the syrinx, the dive‐sound is produced by high‐frequency fluttering of the outermost tail feathers. The Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna), sister to the Costa’s, also sings a vocal song and produces a dive‐sound with the wings and outermost tail feathers that sounds similar to a portion of the song. The interspecific match in signal form between the two species is not as strong as the intraspecific match. Phylogenetic reconstruction indicates that the dive‐sounds may have evolved first, suggesting that the song may have evolved to mimic the dive‐sound. We propose the “sexual sensory bias” hypothesis as an explanation for the match in form between the song and the dive‐sound within each species, in which we suggest that new sexual signals can arise in response to preexisting female preferences for older sexual signals.