A normal-looking bird, the CWM is the central focus of this website, and a great teacher to widen our eyes about birds, animal behavior, evolution, and nature in general.
Where on Earth?
As the range map to the right indicates, the CWM is endemic to—i.e., can only be found in—a very small area in the entire world. They only live in cloud forest on the western slope of the Andes in Northwestern Ecuador and Southwestern Colombia.
The Club-winged Manakin is a Typical Manakin
The CWM is typical of the other species of manakins (family Pipridae) in being small (sparrow-sized), sexually dimorphic (the males are colorful, the females are drab olive), lek-breeding (males aggregate to compete with one another in their displays to females), and frugivorous (consuming mostly fruit). Females lay one or two eggs in a cup-nest, and raise their young on their own, without the help of those violining males. The males hang out on their individual territories most of the year, waiting for a female to consider him as a possible father of her young. Males are ready to display nearly all day, nearly every day, year round, except for a small period called “molt” when males change out their feathers.
The Club-winged Manakin is not a Typical Bird
As this site explores, the simple act of making its unique sound makes the male Club-winged Manakin one of the most unusual birds in the world. He moves his wings into odd positions and vibrates them at incredible speeds. A pair of his wing feathers are optimized to vibrate and generate sound instead of being optimized to “grab” air. Further, he has wing bones, which instead of being hollow and thin-walled for flight (like every other bird), are massive, solid, and highly-mineralized acoustic objects.
Given his odd feathers and heavy bones, people always ask how well this bird can fly. The answer is, probably not as well as normal birds and other manakins, but it is hard to tell by watching him. The kind of experiments that could answer that question are hard to perform given where the species is found.
Map compliments of Neotropical Birds Online