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

Podcast

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.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Credits:

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. http://www.xeno-canto.org

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

© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org   January 2017   Narrator: Michael Stein

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”

Help Defend the Endangered Species Act

Bald Eagle. Photo: Don Berman/Audubon Photography Awards

×