Specialized feathers produce sonations during flight in columbina ground doves

Robert L. Niese, Christopher J. Clark, Bret W. Tobalske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The shape of remiges (primary and secondary feathers) is constrained and stereotyped by the demands of flight, but members of the subfamily of New World ground doves (Peristerinae) possess many atypical remex shapes with which they produce sonations of alarm. Within the genus Columbina specifically, the seventh primary feathers (P7) have elongated barbs that create a protrusion on the trailing vane which varies in size and shape between species. These feathers are hypothesized to have been coopted to produce communicative sounds (i.e., sonations) during flight, but the mechanism of this sound production is unknown. We tested the sound-producing capabilities of spread wing specimens from three species of ground doves (C. inca, C. passerina, and C. talpacoti) in a wind tunnel. High speed video and audio analyses indicated that all wings of adult birds produced buzzing sounds in the orientation and flow velocity of mid-upstroke. These buzzing sounds were produced as the protrusion of elongated barbs fluttered and collided with adjacent P6 feathers at a fundamental frequency of 200 and 400 Hz, respectively. Wings from juvenile C. inca produced significantly quieter buzzes and most (three of four individuals) lacked the elongated barbs that are present in adults. Buzzing sounds produced in the wind tunnel were similar to those produced by wild birds indicating that these P7 feathers have been coopted to produce acoustic signals (sonations) during flight. The shape and mechanism of sound production described here in Columbina appear to be unique among birds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1160-1172
Number of pages13
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021


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