How and Why Rock Pigeons Clap Their Wings

For most birds, wings are for flying. For penguins, they’re for swimming. But for Rock Pigeons, they’re also for clapping. Startle a flock of Rock Pigeons, and you’ll hear something like this: Rock Pigeon wing claps. 

When Rock Pigeons erupt into flight, some of them may slap their wings together above their bodies. It’s called a “wing clap.”

A male Rock Pigeon will do this when courting. He’ll posture and coo alongside a female …

… then fly sharply upward in an aerial display. The brisk series of claps is a shout-out of his courtship plans to the female watching from the rooftop.

Short-eared Owls have evolved wing-clapping, too. These medium-sized owls fly by day on long wings, rounded at the tip. And mostly they fly slowly, gracefully, like enormous moths. But when a male displays to a female or attempts to warn off an intruder, he snaps his wings together below his body in a burst of two to six claps per second, producing a sound that sounds remarkably like…applause.


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