A new study reveals that songbirds are able to flirt, woo, and communicate with each other through a type of dancing that is undetectable by most other animals, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.
The dances were captured using high-speed cameras. Researchers had to use the technique because the birds’ fancy footwork is otherwise invisible to humans, Discovery News reports. In fact, the motion is so fast that even normal digital video cameras cannot capture it.
However, the birds have higher visual sensitivity–known as a “higher flicker fusion threshold”–that allows them to both see and hear the dancing.
Researchers observed the behavior in songbirds known as the blue-capped cordonbleu and the red-cheeked cordonbleu, from the genus Uraeginthus. They also suspect that other songbirds, such as the blue-breasted cordonbleu, the purple grenadier, and the common grenadier also sing and dance in a similar way.
Normally, loud singing is used to attract other birds in the area, but the dance moves are much more intimate. The behavior is usually reserved for visual and sensual communications directed at a potential mate. The study also shows that female songbirds can perform courtship displays with the same skill as their male counterparts.
During the research, the team also discovered that the birds would often wave around twigs or other eye-catching objects during their performance. This led the team to suspect the routines are intricate courtship displays designed to bring a male and female together.
“They show very quick steps and make sounds by such steps. They perform tap dance to impress potential mates,” study author Masayo Soma told The Christian Science Monitor.
Complex high speed foot-tapping adds a visual component to the courtship display. It may also be used to demonstrate how physically fit the dancing bird is or to add an acoustic element to the routine.
Both male and female cordonbleu songbirds are extremely choosy. Scientists think that tendency may have contributed to the evolution of the elaborate song and dance routines.