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What is a Manakin?

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  • Written By: DM Gutierrez
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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The manakin, a small bird in the family Pipridae, primarily inhabits humid forested regions of Central and South America, though some species live in dry wooded areas. They are generally arboreal and usually not migratory. These sparrow-like birds are distinctive in their elaborate and unusual mating behaviors and colorful plumage. There are over 50 species of manakins, mostly named for their appearance, for example, red-capped, wire-tailed, and scarlet-horned manakins.

Manakin species are tiny and stocky, ranging in weight from .3 to 1 oz.(8 to 30 g). They are generally 2.8 to 6 inches (7 to 15 cm) in length. Female and juvenile male manakins are usually dull green or brown on their heads and back and a paler shade beneath, but adult male manakins come in many vivid colors. Males typically have black bodies with scarlet, blue, green, or yellow caps, throats, and breasts. Their wings may have contrasting black and white feathers.

The manakin’s diet consists almost exclusively of fruit, which it snatches on the wing. These birds sometimes consume insects. Female manakins have large territories which they usually share with other females, often feeding together. Male manakins typically live together in bachelor colonies, though mixed feeding flocks have been reported.

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During the breeding season, male manakins perform elaborate courtship rituals to attract females. Males may dance, chirp, sing, or hum. Some manakins snap or pop their wings. The red-capped manakin hops backward along a tree branch resembling a dancer doing the “moonwalk”.

The club-winged manakin is the only known bird that plays the “violin” to attract a mate. Male club-winged manakins typically have two special feathers on each black and white wing. One feather has seven ridges on its shaft and acts as the violin. Another hollow, club-shaped feather acts as the bow. When the wooing male knocks his wings together up behind his back, the two feathers on each wing makes a resonant tonal hum. This sound is said to declare the male’s readiness to mate with available females.

The great majority of manakins do not pair-bond. This often results in sexual selection of specific colorations and behaviors, since one male may attract many different females. The female creates either a cup-like nest in ground vegetation or a woven grass sling near water. Some male manakins protect the nesting site, but usually the female is solely responsible for incubating the eggs, typically for three weeks. The chicks fledge two weeks after hatching.

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