Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Year of Darwin 10/6/2014: Darwin describes a lek (and videos)

 Charles Darwin

"The rock-thrush of Guiana, birds of Paradise, and some other, congregate; and successive males display their gorgeous plumage and perform strange antics before the females, which standing by as spectators, at last choose the most attractive partner." Charles Darwin, Origin of Species 1st edition (on Kindle)

I have a blood disorder that makes me prone to DVTs and, consequently, pulmonary embolisms so I don't have the longest life expectancy. But I had a charmed life and witnessed some of the most amazing ecological phenomena on the planet and many of them have been leks.

Leks are what Darwin describes above. There are different types of leks but most are either loose/exploded (males are scattered in the same general area) or happen in an "arena."  In North America I've seen a Greater-Prairie Chicken lek at an ornithological meeting in Kearney, Nebraska. Males strutted around then stopped and another would do the same. All seemed a very low energy affair. In the tropics, I've come across the loose leks of Hermit hummingbirds, where males simply sit and "tick", "tick", "tick" away incessantly. I did not see any of the more famous manakin leks but I did see a Pipra eurythrocephela lek - males zipping around in the canopy of second growith but the whole thing moved through the forest. The most spectacular leks I came across were a Capuchinbird lek and a Crimson Topaz hummingbird lek. Capuchinbirds are contingas - a whole clade of colorful and bizarre acting birds. Impossible to describe how loud and weird but there are videos. The Crimson Topaz lek was at a camp called Dimona in Manaus (described by E.O. Wilson in Biodiversity). The lek was at a small pond surrounded by second growth. Males would take turns flying over the center of the pond and hovering over the center and turning, his shining green gorget flickering. Amazing stuff. 

Here's a few videos of leks.  Makes me ache for the tropics. 

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