He’s as big as a dove, as loud as a chainsaw and loves yelling at females.
The white bellbird lives deep in the Amazon rainforest and is taking home the prize for the loudest voice of any bird species.
In a clear-cut case of each to their own, it appears the females love it.
At least enough to voluntarily expose themselves to the shattering sound.
The bird calls are so loud researchers Jeff Podos at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Mario Cohn-Haft of Brazil’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia wondered how the females listen at close range without damaging their hearing.
“He sings the first note facing away, and then he does this dramatic, almost theatrical swivel, where he swings around with his feet wide open and his wattle is kind of flailing around,” Professor Podos told AFP.
“And he blasts that second note right where the female would have been, except the female knows what’s coming and she’s not going to sit there and accept that, so she flies backwards” – by around four metres.
Just like peahens appreciate bright peacock feathers and female lyrebirds swoon for a male dancing and prancing around a leafy stage, these bellbird lasses seem to like the sound.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. At close range, it reaches 113 decibels, which is above the human pain threshold and equivalent to a turbo-prop plane taking off 60 metres away.
“Maybe they are trying to assess males up close, though at the risk of some damage to their hearing systems,” Professor Podos said.
Instead of ruffling feathers, it seems in this case, the loudest bird is actually the one that gets the worm.
Joseph Tobias at Imperial College London told New Scientist the close proximity indicates it’s probably a sexual signal.
“If females detect the loudest males from longer range, and find the loudest males most attractive at close range, then sexual selection would drive the evolution of extremely loud songs, up against the limits of physical performance constraints,” he said.
Part of the punch is that the bird is so small.
The bellbird is the size of a dove.
There are certainly louder birds out there, like a crane or a swan, but they haven’t had their voices properly measured, said Professor Podos.
“That doesn’t diminish how remarkable the bellbirds are because they’re much, much smaller,” he said.