Golden-collared manakins: behavioral flexibility of an athlete

09.07.2020: Golden-collared manakins (Manacus vitellinus) have the ability to adapt their motor-complex courtship dances to sudden changes in the environment.

Humans as well as animals react to changes in the environment with behavioral flexibility that helps them to adapt to new situations and circumstances or to learn new behaviors. Judith Janisch, Elisa Perinot and Leonida Fusani from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology at Vetmeduni Vienna and the Department of Behavioral and Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna researched this aspect in connection with one of the most unusual mating behaviors in the animal kingdom - the courtship dance of Golden-collared manakins. They found that the birds maintain an exact sequence of jump sequences in their courtship dance, but have enough flexibility to adapt to a sudden change in the environment. The study also showed that the basis of this behavior could be motor learning, which was first identified in connection with complex mating behavior.

Golden-collared manakins live in the tropical rainforests of Panama and Colombia where every bird male has its own arena, where they present their acrobatic jumps to the females and woo their attention. The males begin to train as young animals and even as adult animals they are constantly practiced during the mating season in order to demonstrate the movements even better and faster. The arena, which is built between several young trees, plays an important role for the implementation of the rehearsed pairing dance as well as for the reproductive success. But what happens if one of the young trees is destroyed or blocked? How can the birds deal with this situation?

Behavioral flexibility observed in Golden-collared manakins

The researchers investigated these questions using a behavioral experiment. The animals were first observed for a while to determine their usual dance sequence. Afterwards, the most important young tree (so called “mating tree”) was blocked by eight birds within the arena by a large piece of bark. As a result, the males could no longer complete their jumping sequences and perform their courtship dance for the females. The bark piece was removed after four days. The scientists observed the animals for another day to understand how the males react.

The results showed that the males normally perform a rehearsed, very precise sequence of jump sequences, which is already automated. After this routine was disrupted by the bark piece, the animals had to rehearse a new jump sequence in order to be back to their original performance. The researchers suspect that Golden-collared manakins have a certain flexibility in behavior and can change their trained motor sequences over time. After the bark piece was removed, half of the males returned to their original jumping sequence.

The study provides an initial insight into the development and possibilities of these complex, socially important behaviors and how they are adapted to environmental influences.

The article „Behavioural flexibility in the courtship dance of golden-collared manakins, Manacus vitellinus“ by Judith Janisch, Elisa Perinot and Leonida Fusani was published in Animal Behaviour.


Scientific Contact

Judith Janisch

Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology

University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna)

T +43 1 25077-7431 / +43 (1) 250 77 94-7431

E-Mail to Judith Janisch




Press Photo

Golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus) © Elisa Perinot
Golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus) ©  Elisa Perinot 3 3
Golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus) © Elisa Perinot
Golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus) ©  Elisa Perinot 3





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