Andean Cock of the Rock

Andean Cock of the Rock (ACOR).  No, it isn’t a strange sexual innuendo.  It’s a bird.  It’s a bird that is most famous for its lekking.  What is lekking?  You may ask.  Lekking is a behavior.  Lekking is when male Sage Grouse fill the crazy balloons in their chest and dance around for females.  Lekking is when certain Manakins moonwalk.  Lekking is the crazy displays male Bird of Paradise do to impress the ladies.

Lekking is a behavior that could easily get you killed.  Lekking male birds are often brightly colored to begin with.  Lekking only adds to their conspicuous nature.  A lekking bird is basically shouting, “Here I am!” not only to females but to potential predators as well.  The birds are also spending an enormous amount of energy and time, energy and time that could be spent finding food.  Why do it then?  Because sex is incredibly important in evolutionary terms.  If you live to be 125 years old and have no offspring, you’re an evolutionary dead end.  If on the other hand you father 12 kids and then die in a freak gasoline fight accident at the age of 25, you are highly successful evolutionarily speaking.  Your genes have proven themselves superior just by reproducing themselves.  So even if it’s dangerous, lekking is the only game in town.  If to get a date a guy absolutely had to learn to juggle flaming chainsaws, how many men wouldn’t try (and possible die painfully)?

Part of the job for Erin and I as managers at Reserva Las Tangaras was collecting data for behavioral research on ACOR.  So when we were expected to get up at five in the morning and trek uphill for half an hour through the jungle to watch a lek, I was actually excited.  Lekking can be intricate, beautiful, fast, impressive.  After sitting in a hide being as quiet as possible for a few mornings, I realized that although ACOR’s are beautiful, bright colored birds, they’re no moonwalking Manakins.  Mostly the ACOR make a lot of noise and flap around.  Apparently their females are easier to impress than Bird of Paradise females.  Still, the display is impressive for nothing else than the sound of so many birds around you desperately calling out to find a willing female.  Nothing else in the cloud forest sounds quite like an ACOR lek and sometimes you can hear them miles away.  Below is my weak photo of an ACOR, I did my best but it was hard taking photos from a hide with so many branches around and the ACOR not usually exceptional.

See that red dot? That's the ACOR!

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