Wing Flicking: Pygmy Wren-babbler

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Pygmy Wren-babbler – wing flicking.

“We occasionally see birds do what is called ‘wing flicking’ – a single or series of rapid wing extensions upwards or to the side and that are brought back immediately. The bird does not fly, the activity is rapid and the wings are not kept extended. Occasionally only one wing is ‘flicked’. Some call this ‘wing fluttering’ ‘or ‘wing twitching’ but ‘wing flicking’ is the best description and found in avian literature.

Pygmy Wren-babbler – wing flicking.

“There are a number of possible reasons for such behaviour:
1. Feeding behaviour – we have all seen young birds rapidly flick or flutter their wing, especially when the adult approaches with food or when demanding food.

2. Courtship Activity – wing flicking can be part for the courtship display especially from the adult male.

3. Intimidation – the wing flicking could be used as a territorial behaviour to intimidate a rival adult bird.

4. Distraction – it also been proposed that wing flicking could be a distraction method for potential nest predators.

5. Pursuit-Deterrent Signal – this is described as communication ‘between a potential prey animal and its potential predator. In doing so, the prey individual makes itself more obvious to the predator, but in doing so it communicates that the predator has been spotted, has lost the element of surprise and if it continues its pursuit is unlikely to be successful’ (LINK and LINK).

6. Intra-Species Contact Signals – Dippers often flick their wings and it has been suggested that ‘the function of dipping, wing-flicking or tail-wagging is to render the bird less conspicuous to predators against a background of moving, often turbulent, water. These movements however probably act as intra-species advertising or contact signals adapted to overcome the difficulty of communication against the background noise of their environment’ (see: Stephanie Tyler. The Dippers. EPUB 2010).

7. Feeding method – It has been suggested that some Egrets (e.g. Snowy Egret) use wing flicking to cast shadows and flush prey (see: Fred A. Ryser Birds of the Great Basin: A Natural History. University of Nevada Press).

8. Excitement – finally it could just be a sign of excitement; a response to good or bad stress.

Pygmy Wren-babbler.

“I also think that wing flicking is not unlike ‘tail flicking’ that also see in a number of birds species. The Pygmy Wren-babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla) of course has hardly got a tail to speak of 😉

“I have observed wing flicking behaviour in Pygmy Wren-babbler in the past but never been able to document it well. On this occasion I had an extended opportunity to watch a pair, especially the presumed adult male for ~ 21 minutes. Many calls were made and twice the bird came to the edge of the dense jungle. I was able to observe many wing flicking episodes by a single bird (presumed adult male). Occasionally the wing flicking was interspersed with loud calls but most episodes were done without calls. The bird would also flit or dance around on the branch rapidly. Only once did I see the wing flicking occur with a short leap in the air.

Pygmy Wren-babbler.

“Images were difficult as I was in a dark forest location, in the early morning, so I set the ISO to auto and at maximum possibilities. Images were taken at ISO 30-50,000 handheld.

“The top two images show the classical wing flicking postures. I had to ‘shoot’ continually to document a few; most ended up blur due to bird movement in a dark environment.

“I merged 68 consecutive images into a short video/gif to help appreciate this fast behaviour, see video below.

“So why did this bird display wing flicking to me?

“Later in the morning I briefly spotted the birds in the same location carrying nesting material. I suspect the behaviour was mixture of distraction and also intimidation.”

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
18th October 2017

Location: 1,600-1,700m ASL, Cameron Highlands, Pahang, Malaysia
Habitat: Trail through primary jungle

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