Photo and Commentary ©2022 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, November 29, 2022

We heard it before we saw it, like the snap caused by the breaking of a twig or someone snapping their fingers to the cadence of a metronome. The thick growth of the tropical forest prevented us from seeing the musician until we rounded the corner and saw the miniature bird with bright orange legs, a White-collared Manakin. We watched as it flitted in the trees around a marshy area, periodically flicking it wings to produce the snapping sound. This is part of the ritualized mating dance conducted by this species. While so performing, the males puff out the feathers on their neck to form a beard which apparently makes them appear more attractive.

Our sighting involved only a single bird, but when a female is present the acrobatics are turned up another notch. This action takes place at a lek, an agreed upon location, usually near water, where males meet to compete for the female’s attention. Any males present will engage in a dance which involves flitting back and forth between two upright bare sticks while producing the snapping sounds. This dance is conducted over a patch of ground in the forest that has been previously cleared of debris by the male. This serves as the stage for their performance. In addition to the snapping sounds, their wings are also modified to produce other reverberations, some like rustling, some like buzzing. All this is done to win the affections of the female.

However, it’s at this point we must draw a contrasting line separating the passions of this bird from the love of mankind, for manakins fail to form stable pair relationships. They mate and then the males are off for more snapping and dancing. True love, on the other hand, carries with it a sense of permanence. Augustine of Hippo penned wise words long ago: “It is love that asks, that seeks, that knocks, that finds, and this is faithful to what it finds.”

Ellen White extended this definition when she wrote: “When the heavenly principle of eternal love fills the heart, it will flow out to others, not merely because favors are received of them, but because love is the principle of action and modifies the character, governs the impulses, controls the passions subdues enmity, and elevates and ennobles the affections.” (4T p.223) Lest after reading this we come to believe love somehow lacks emotion, consider the words of that platonic man himself, Plato: “At the touch of love, every man becomes a poet.”