All About Lance-tailed Manakins
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 SAmY. 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. SAmY is striped-dark blue-metal-yellow. Watch for the flash of SAmY’s yellow band on this right leg to tell them apart during their leapfrog displays. PGVm was first banded as a nestling in April 2006; and SAmY was first caught as an adult-plumage male in 2009. 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 2016 includes Emily DuVal, her husband Elliot Schunke, field assistants Collin Hertz and Meredith Kuzel, and Emily and Elliot’s 3-year-old son, Will. FSU graduate student Carla Vanderbilt is in Tallahassee this year wrapping up analyses for her dissertation on fine-scale variation in lance-tailed manakin display performance.