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Tail singers

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11:58am, August 20, 2007

The sound effects of Anna's hummingbirds, widespread along the West Coast, have been misunderstood, according to a new test.

Some of the males' most dramatic noises aren't vocalizations, as has been thought. Instead, the birds make noises by whipping their tails through the air.

Males, with iridescent, rose-colored throats and heads, perform aerial dives when courting a female or confronting another male. For a display, a male flies high in the air and then drops nearly straight down. When he's plummeted to the level of his intended audience, he pulls out of the dive while sounding an explosive squeak.

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