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J Exp Biol. 2010 May;213(Pt 9):1602-8. doi: 10.1242/jeb.034207.

Sonation in the male common snipe (Capella gallinago gallinago L.) is achieved by a flag-like fluttering of their tail feathers and consequent vortex shedding.

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Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK.


Male common snipe (Capella gallinago gallinago) produce a 'drumming' sound with their outer tail feathers during their mating dives, but little is known about how this is achieved. We investigated the movements and sound producing capabilities of the outer tail feathers. Using a wind tunnel, we compared observations of the frequencies of sound produced with the predictions from aerodynamic theory. The feathers were also filmed in an air-flow with a high speed video camera, and subjected to morphological examination and biomechanical testing. We propose a mechanistic hypothesis of how the modified outer feathers of the male common snipe generate sound, and the adaptations that facilitate this. Video and audio analysis of the feather demonstrated that a fluttering of the trailing vane generated the sound. The flutter of the vane is facilitated by the rearward curvature of the feather shaft, reduced branching angles of the barbs in the trailing vane and the lack of hooks on the barbs along a hinge region, all of which increase its flexural compliance. Sound production occurred at the same frequency as the vane movements, at frequencies consistent with it being produced by a fluttering flag mechanism powered by vortex shedding.

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