M2 Archilochus colubris from Phylogenetic and kinematic constraints on avian flight signals

Many birds vocalize in flight. Because wingbeat and respiratory cycles are often linked in flying vertebrates, birds in these cases must satisfy the respiratory demands of vocal production within the physiological limits imposed by flight. Using acoustic triangulation and high-speed video, we found that avian vocal production in flight exhibits a largely phasic and kinematic relationship with the power stroke. However, the sample of species showed considerable flexibility, especially those from lineages known for vocal plasticity (songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds), prompting a broader phylogenetic analysis. We thus collected data from 150 species across 12 avian orders and examined the links between wingbeat period, flight call duration and body mass. Overall, shorter wingbeat periods, controlling for ancestry and body mass, were correlated with shorter flight call durations. However, species from vocal learner lineages produced flight signals that, on average, exceeded multiple phases of their wingbeat cycle, while vocal non-learners had signal periods that were, on average, closer to the duration of their power stroke. These results raise an interesting question: is partial emancipation from respiratory constraints a necessary step in the evolution of vocal learning or an epiphenomenon? Our current study cannot provide the answer, but it does suggest several avenues for future research.