Wednesday, March 18, 2015

SOUNDS OF KENYA: Displaying Bustards

As an innocent, impressionable undergraduate, I worked in Gail Patricelli’s lab studying the vocal display of the male Greater Sage Grouse.  The sage grouse display is outrageous (You should check it out).  Therefore, I was surprised to find a bird in the Mara with a display even slightly reminiscent of the sage grouse’s display.  The kori bustard is huge and is rumored to be the heaviest animal capable of flight. They usually spends their time wandering through the tall grass looking like this.

A few weeks ago we were confused when we saw this one from a long way off:

It didn’t look like anything we had ever seen in the Mara, much less the usually drab kori bustard.  So, we drove up alongside him to get a good look at his strange strut display.

It took us a good five minutes of oooing and aaaahhing at his display to realize that he was also vocalizing.  If you listen to this recording with headphones or a set of speakers with good bass, you will hear a very deep drumming noise.  That is the kori bustard.

It was only a few days later that I discovered another interesting display from the Black Bellied Bustard.  I have often heard this call, seemingly to their current mate, when they are out of sight.

Their display, in contrast, is performed on a termite mound sticking up above the tall grass and sounds like this:

These bustards aren’t as flashy as the sage grouse, but it was nice to see some cool mating displays nonetheless.

With the entertainment over, I would like to personally ask a favor of all you trusty blog readers.  I am part of a crowdfunding effort to bring underrepresented groups to an international conference.  As a PhD student, an assistant professor, and a researcher from an underdeveloped country, we lack the funds to travel to and participate in international conferences. These are conferences where great scientists come together to further great science through knowledge transfer and collaboration.

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1 comment:

Dan said...

Actually, the weight limit on flight isn't down to the weight a flying animal can power in the air, but how much power it takes to get into the air.

Birds only use their hind limbs for take-off on land (waterfowl use their wings a little on water take-offs) which limits them.

Pterosaurs, especially the azdarchids, jumped into the air from all fours; they were quadrupeds anyway. Doing this meant that the take-off was powered mostly by the flight muscles on the forelimbs, which permitted a much, much greater take-off weight of around 250 kilogrammes.

A large azdarchid pterosaur, walking normally, would have been tall enough to be eye to eye with a modern giraffe, and fulfilled an ecological niche somewhat like a modern stork, only much larger. Such animals were mostly terrestrial walking generalist predators, which only took off when they either wanted to get somewhere fast, or had spotted a big theropod looking to put them on the menu.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science