Episode 77 – Red-Capped Manakin: The Moonwalking Glitch Bird

“And today we’re talking about a bird that claps for himself. But more on that later.”

Dance is the language of love. Or at least, that’s the motto of a variety of birds in rain forests around the world. Some animals fight for their mates, but why do that when you can settle things with style? One small South American bird takes his dance to the next level buy incorporating some moves that are big on the pop scene. But when your a bird of very small stature, you have to do whatever it takes to catch the eye of an eligible bachelorette in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Measure Up

Length – 4 in (10 cm) – How many red-capped manakin birds go into El Castillo at Xunantunich (zoo-nan-to-nich), an ancient Mayan structure in Belize (130 feet or 40 m)? Hint: The structure was a Mayan temple that was built around 800 AD. Answer: 390 birds.

Weight – 16 g (0.56 oz) – How many red-capped manakin birds go into the weight of a Baird’s Tapir (605 lbs), the national animal of Belize? Hint: In 2006, the former Costa Rican Minister of Environment and Energy, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Echandi, was attacked and injured by a tapir. Tapir attacks on humans are rare but may happen if the animal feels threatened. Respect their distance. Answer: 17,285 birds

Major Fact

Like birds of paradise, manakin birds engage in complex matting displays. 

The Red-capped manakin has a few moves to woo the ladies that are fairly unique. 

  • Manekin birds move very quickly in general.
  • They look like they are on fast forward. Turning their heads, wingbeats, and hops are all extremely fast.
  • To analyze their courtship displays, researchers like ecologist Dr. Kimberly Bostwick at Cornell University, have used high speed cameras.
  • Research has revealed that the male does a complicated dance to impress a female.
  • The dance involves flying between two perches: a main branch and a secondary one.

The bird moves in a way that’s too fast for the human eye to really comprehend what he’s doing.

  • He’ll turn around or hop from side to side so fast it looks like he’s got a bad wifi connection with super low ping.
  • He will also move towards the female with a little slide that looks like he’s tarzan tree surfing.
  • It’s actually tiny little hops that are extremely fast.
  • This slide has been called a moonwalk because he’ll face away from the female and slide backwards toward her along the branch.

When he lands on the main perch, to the naked eye, it looks like he puffs up and makes a popping sound.

  • In reality, he is opening his wings and beating them against his tail feathers three times. 
  • The wing movement is twice as fast as it is when he flies and nearly hummingbird speed. 
  • The popping sound it makes attracts the female but warns males that he’s got dibs.
  • He will also open his wings fully and slap them against his sides.


Hey, Taxonomy Titans! We arent great at impressive dances or moonwalking, but if you’re impressed with this podcast, we’d love to hear from you. Leave a review on your favorite podcasting app, or tell your friends about your favorite episode of Life, Death, and Taxonomy. Your endorsement helps us grow more than any fancy marketing methods or calls-to-action from us! Also, right now, or as soon as you park, go into your phone’s recording app and record a measure up intro! It only takes a second, and it warms our hearts! As always, thanks for listening and engaging!