To create the clapping sound, pigeons slap their wings together above their heads as they fly. Photo: Andrew Garn


How and Why Rock Pigeons Clap Their Wings

Short-eared Owls do it, too.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

Episode Transcript: 

This is BirdNote.

For most birds, wings are for flying. For penguins, they’re for swimming. But for Rock Pigeons, they’re also for clapping. Startle a flock of Rock Pigeons, and you’ll hear something like this: Rock Pigeon wing claps. 

When Rock Pigeons erupt into flight, some of them may slap their wings together above their bodies. It’s called a “wing clap.”  

A male Rock Pigeon will do this when courting. He’ll posture and coo alongside a female ... 

… then fly sharply upward in an aerial display. The brisk series of claps is a shout-out of his courtship plans to the female watching from the rooftop.

Short-eared Owls have evolved wing-clapping, too. These medium-sized owls fly by day on long wings, rounded at the tip. And mostly they fly slowly, gracefully, like enormous moths. But when a male displays to a female or attempts to warn off an intruder, he snaps his wings together below his body in a burst of two to six claps per second, producing a sound that sounds remarkably like…applause.

Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.


Written by Bob Sundstrom

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by [ambient sound Macauley 137503]. 

XC 283442 recorded by Frank Holzapfel, 247616 recorded by Krzysztof Deoniziak.

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2017 Tune In to   January 2017   Narrator: Michael Stein

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