Like Billie Jean, they cause a scene: Meet the moonwalking manakin

April 27, 2012 at 2:09 PM ET

Tim Laman/National Geographic /
A male club-winged manakin in the Milpe Bird Sanctuary, with his characteristic red thatch, has just attracted a female with his sound and now hopes to seal the deal.
National Geographic /

It turns out that the late Michael Jackson wasn't the only one who can moonwalk: Photographer Tim Laman captured a manakin (it's a tropical bird, not a life-size doll) busting a remarkably similar move for the May edition of National Geographic magazine.

Like a beauty queen from a movie scene, a manakin in action is a spectacular song-and-dance number in the middle of a tropical forest. About half of the 40 known species make music by moving their body parts. And in the flush of courtship, males execute maneuvers with names like the dart, the about-face, the upright, and the backward slide (which looks just like the moonwalk Michael Jackson popularized with the hit "Billie Jean").

In 1871, naturalist Charles Darwin sized up the manakin like this: “The diversity of the sounds … and the diversity of the means for producing such sounds, are highly remarkable. We thus gain a high idea of their importance for sexual purposes.” Just remember, male manakins: "Be careful of what you do, and don't go around breaking young girl's hearts."

Tim Laman/National Geographic /
The blue-crowned manakin doesn't produce any wing sounds.


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