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Kinematic control of male Allen’s Hummingbird wing trill over a range of flight speeds [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Christopher J. Clark and Emily A. Mistick

Wing trills are pulsed sounds produced by modified wing feathers at one or more specific points in time during a wingbeat. Male Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) produce a sexually dimorphic 9 kHz wing trill in flight. Here we investigate the kinematic basis for trill production. The wingtip velocity hypothesis posits that trill production is modulated by the airspeed of the wingtip at some point during the wingbeat, whereas the wing rotation hypothesis posits that trill production is instead modulated by wing rotation kinematics. To test these hypotheses, we flew six male Allen’s Hummingbirds in an open jet wind tunnel at flight speeds of 0, 3, 6, 9, 12 and 14 m s–1, and recorded their flight with two ‘acoustic cameras’ placed below and behind, or below and lateral to the flying bird. The acoustic cameras are phased arrays of 40 microphones that used beamforming to spatially locate sound sources within a camera image. Trill Sound Pressure Level (SPL) exhibited a U-shaped relationship with flight speed in all three camera positions. SPL was greatest perpendicular to the stroke plane. Acoustic camera videos suggest that the trill is produced during supination. The trill was up to 20 dB louder during maneuvers than it was during steady state flight in the wind tunnel, across all airspeeds tested. These data provide partial support for the wing rotation hypothesis. Altered wing rotation kinematics could allow male Allen’s Hummingbird to modulate trill production in social contexts such as courtship displays.

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