Lance-tailed Manakins

Location: Panama

Camera Host: DuVal Lab, Florida State University

May 28, 2019

Lance-tailed Manakin Works Hard to Maintain a Pristine Perch

Lance-tailed Manakins display on perches that they meticulously clean and maintain throughout the breeding season. They clear away any leaves and stray twigs to create entirely unobstructed perches on which to dance. Here we see an adult male doing a little displaying and maintenance.  

May 20, 2019

Female Black-hooded Antshrike Stops By Manakin Display Perch

The Black-hooded Antshrike is an attractive Central American endemic, which is confined to the Pacific slope of Costa Rica and adjacent western Panama. Males are largely deep black, becoming marginally paler over the ventral region, with three rows of well-marked white spots on the wings, while females—like this one—are principally brown, with a contrasting black tail, equally prominent white wing-spots, and a narrowly but obviously white-streaked head and underparts.  

May 07, 2019

Howler Monkey Calls Interrupt Vigorous Morning Dance Practice

One adult male and two subadult male Lance-tailed Manakins practice the morning away, with brief interruptions by Howler monkeys calling from the canopy. Howler monkeys spend the majority of their time eating leaves, fruits and nuts in the canopy and rarely venture down to the forest floor. They are thought to be the loudest land mammal.  

May 28, 2019

Lance-tailed Manakin Works Hard to Maintain a Pristine Perch

Lance-tailed Manakins display on perches that they meticulously clean and maintain throughout the breeding season. They clear away any leaves and stray twigs to create entirely unobstructed perches on which to dance. Here we see an adult male doing a little displaying and maintenance.  

May 20, 2019

Female Black-hooded Antshrike Stops By Manakin Display Perch

The Black-hooded Antshrike is an attractive Central American endemic, which is confined to the Pacific slope of Costa Rica and adjacent western Panama. Males are largely deep black, becoming marginally paler over the ventral region, with three rows of well-marked white spots on the wings, while females—like this one—are principally brown, with a contrasting black tail, equally prominent white wing-spots, and a narrowly but obviously white-streaked head and underparts.  

May 07, 2019

Howler Monkey Calls Interrupt Vigorous Morning Dance Practice

One adult male and two subadult male Lance-tailed Manakins practice the morning away, with brief interruptions by Howler monkeys calling from the canopy. Howler monkeys spend the majority of their time eating leaves, fruits and nuts in the canopy and rarely venture down to the forest floor. They are thought to be the loudest land mammal.  

March 20

Lance-tailed Manakin Returns For 2019 Season!

Welcome to the dry tropics of Panama, where the Lance-tailed Manakin Cam returns to showcase how cooperation can hold the keys to success during the breeding season. Here, a horizontal display perch acts as center stage for an alpha-beta pair of male manakins who leap and bound their way through springtime in an attempt to woo potential mates for the alpha male. While it's not a traditional two-step, the cooperative courtship displays of this dynamic duo are a sight to behold for anyone who appreciates a dizzying dance routine. 

All About Lance-tailed Manakins

Life History

This cam shows one display perch in a population of Lance-tailed Manakins on Isla Boca Brava, Chiriquí, Panamá, that has been monitored intensively since 1999. Lance-tailed Manakins are small passerine birds in the family Pipridae that live in secondary growth forests of Western Panama, Columbia, and Venezuela. Male Lance-tailed Manakins are black with a blue back and red crest; females are olive-green with orange legs, and have an orange or red crest. Young males initially look like females, but pass through two intermediate subadult plumages before attaining adult coloration in their 4th year after hatching. Lance-tailed Manakins are primarily frugivorous, and manakins as a group are important seed dispersers in tropical forests.

Courtship and Breeding

Lance-tailed Manakins, like other species in the genus Chiroxiphia, court females using complex multi-male displays. The webcam shows one display perch in the display area of one pair of males. However, these two males also perform displays on two other perches in their display area, albeit less frequently. The monitored region consists of 29 males and their display partners, with display areas of adjacent alphas usually separated by at least 50 meters. This concentration of male display areas is called a “lek,” and females visit the lek to evaluate lots of males prior to choosing whom to breed with.

Male Lance-tailed Manakins form long-term two-male alliances. Partners perch side-by-side in tall trees to sing duet songs. When a female approaches, they perform a dance of coordinated leaps and butterfly-like flights on the display perch. Displays that happen right before copulation are often performed only by the alpha male, but if both males are present the beta male typically leaves the area several minutes before the final stages of courtship and mating. The most eye-catching display is the “backwards leapfrog” in which the two males leap alternately over one another as the female watches at close range. Bouts of leapfrog display often end with a sharp “eek” by the alpha male, and one display can include many bouts of leaping – and eeking.

Male Manakin Breeding Success

Color-banding and behavioral monitoring in this population has shown that the dominant “alpha” male and his subordinate “beta” partner may remain together for up to six years. With very rare exceptions, only alpha males reproduce. Why do betas cooperate rather than striking off on their own? Being a beta increases a male’s chance of becoming alpha, but many males die while “waiting in the wings” and never have the chance to be alpha. Interestingly, some males skip beta status altogether and assume alpha roles early in life, and those males are approximately as successful (as measured by genetic paternity) as males who spend years as betas. Current research in this study population investigates why males vary in the routes they take to attaining alpha status.

Female Choice on the Lek

Female Lance-tailed Manakins move widely among display areas in this lek mating system, typically observing displays by 4-6 pairs of males before choosing their mates. After mating, females nest outside of their mate’s display area and raise their young without any male assistance. Though males apparently contribute only sperm to their offspring, mate choice matters: the offspring of more genetically diverse males are more likely to survive.

Read more about Lance-tailed Manakins in the Neotropical Birds Online species account.

About the DuVal Lab Manakin Research


This project is conducted on a 46 ha area of secondary growth dry tropical forest at the eastern end of Isla Boca Brava, Chiriquí Province, Panamá. The dry tropical forest ecosystem has a long dry season and is predominated by deciduous trees that leaf out dramatically as the rains start in April and May each year. Lance-tailed Manakins thrive in the thick underbrush that grows beneath the canopy and are abundant on the study site. Lance-tailed manakins are listed as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN. As the pace of development accelerates in Panama, clear-cutting of undergrowth is the primary factor affecting where manakins occur.

The Lance-tailed Manakins on Isla Boca Brava have been monitored by Emily DuVal and colleagues since 1999 as part of a long-term study of cooperation and mate choice. Current research on variability in cooperative decisions is funded by a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (# 1453408). The current project builds on DuVal’s previous work in this population, which was supported by the National Science Foundation; The Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL; The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany; the University of California at Berkeley, and the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. Landowner Frank Koehler has kindly granted field site access for the duration of this long-term work.

About The Male Manakins

The alpha male at this display area is PGVm, and his beta partner is WGmT. These “names” are codes for the combination of color and metal bands on their legs that allow us to individually identify them from a distance, as they go about their normal activities. PGVm stands for purple over light green on the left, and dark green over metal on the right. PGVm served as the beta male at this site for years before taking over as alpha. WGmT is white-light green-metal-striped yellow/black. Watch for the flash of WGmT’s yellow-striped band on this right leg to tell them apart during their leapfrog displays. PGVm was first banded as a nestling in April 2006. As of 2016, there have been more than two thousand individual Lance-tailed Manakins banded on Isla Boca Brava. There is naturally high mortality for chicks, with only about 30% of nests fledging in a “good year” – but adults can live very long lives. Our oldest male this year has band #339 and was banded as a second-year male in 2001.

The Research Team

The Lance-tailed Manakin research team in 2017 includes Emily DuVal, her husband Elliot Schunke, Meredith Kuzel (a returning member of last year’s team), Lisa Brouellette, Rachel Shepherd, and Emily and Elliot’s 4-year-old son, Will.