Black Jacobin hummingbirds vocalize above the known hearing range of birds

Christopher R. Olson, Marcela Fernandez-Peters, Christine V. Portfors, Claudio V. Mello

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Hummingbirds are a fascinating group of birds, but some aspects of their biology are poorly understood, such as their highly diverse vocal behaviors. We show here that the predominant vocalization of black jacobins (Florisuga fusca), a hummingbird prevalent in the mountains of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, consists of a triplet of syllables with high fundamental frequency (mean F0 ∼11.8 kHz), rapid frequency oscillations and strong ultrasonic harmonics and no detectable elements below ∼10 kHz. These are the most common vocalizations of these birds, and their frequency range is above the known hearing range of any bird species recorded to date, including hearing specialists such as owls. These observations suggest that black jacobins either have an atypically high frequency hearing range, or alternatively their primary vocalization has a yet unknown function unrelated to vocal communication. Black jacobin vocalizations challenge current notions about vocal communication in birds. Olson et al. show that the vocalizations of black jacobin hummingbirds are >10 kHz, thus above the known hearing range of birds. These vocalizations have complex acoustic features that are modulated by context and season. These findings raise novel questions about adaptations needed for high frequency vocal-motor production and perception in birds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R204-R205
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 5 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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