Little is known about the day-to-day behavior of Long-tailed Manakins. They appear to spend little of their time feeding or searching for food (Foster 1977a). Little aggression has been observed between Long-tailed Manakins, even at feeding sites (Leck 1969). Aggression is occasionally observed between males, either over dominance in male-male pair bonds or chases or displacements of subordinate (gamma) males by the dominant (alpha) male (Foster 1987, McDonald 1989a). When feeding birds were observed, there was also no aggression between Long-tailed Manakins and other species observed (Leck 1969).
Long-tailed Manakins do not appear to be territorial. Any male is tolerated in a dance court except during a female’s visit, when lower-ranking males will be chased from the dance perch, and males will not respond to a playback of a toledo call (McDonald 1989a, Trainer and McDonald 1993). Female home ranges are estimated to be as large as 80 ha. (McDonald 1989b) The size (or even existence) of male territories, during or between the mating season, is not known.
Long-tailed Manakins have a lekking mating system. Females choose their mate based on male displays, in this case dances, and each male has a display court where he displays for females. Each court is used by one pair of males, made up of an alpha (dominant) and beta (subordinate) male (Slud 1957, Foster 1977b, McDonald 1989a, McDonald 2007). These alpha-beta pairings appear to be extremely strong, although the two males are not normally related; the pairs spend most of their time together during the breeding season, not only dancing but also performing more routine tasks together. The paired males also appear to maintain their bond during the non-breeding season, and the pairings persist for multiple years (Foster 1977b, McDonald and Potts 1994, McDonald 2009). Females prefer pairs in which the males match their songs very well to each other, which appears to be a characteristic that must be developed over multiple years (Trainer and McDonald 1995, Trainer et al. 2002). Each court also has an average of 7.1 affiliate, or gamma, males (n = 21 zone-years: SD 3.4, range 3-15). These gamma males move between courts, displaying with multiple males. Younger males tend to be affiliated with more courts, as many as 6 (McDonald 1989a).
Males display from late February to early September, with a peak in April and May (Slud 1957, Foster 1976, Foster 1977b). To attract females, a pair of male Long-tailed Manakins calls for a female with a song that is often described as sounding like the word toledo (see Vocalizations). The call is given as often as 19 times per minute and 5,000 times in one day (Slud 1957, Foster 1977b; see Vocalizations). Females appear to listen to many toledo calls, then choose to visit only a few courts. Once a female comes to a court, the two highest-ranking males perform a coordinated dance for the female from a dancing perch, a horizontal branch or vine 1 to 5 m above the ground (McDonald 1989b). These males are normally the alpha and beta males, but if either is absent, one of the gamma males will take the place of the absent bird in the dance. If a higher-ranking male returns during the dance, the lowest-ranking dancing male will leave the dance to allow the higher-ranking one to dance (McDonald 1989a). There are two main types of described dances. In the first, which is often known as the "popcorn"dance or the Up-Down Variant, two males alternately rise into the air 0.3-0.6 m and seem to hang in the air; the tempo of rising becomes faster and faster, and with each rise the male gives a call that has been described as a ‘gutteral miaow raow’ (Slud 1957) or "a wheezy buzzee call" (Foster 1977b) (for a full description, see Slud 1957, Foster 1977b, and Trainer and McDonald 1993). In the second dance, the Cartwheel Variant, the front male jumps backwards while the male in the rear moves forward to occupy the position formerly occupied by the now-jumping male (Slud 1957, Foster 1977b). Both dances may be interrupted by "butterfly flight", in which both males move up to 20 m from the dancing perch and return, simultaneously or at intervals of a few seconds, with a characteristic slow or labored wingbeat (Slud 1957, McDonald 1989b, Trainer and McDonald 1993). After these displays, the beta male removes himself and the alpha male performs a solo precopulatory dance for the female, which sometimes may include more butterfly flight (Foster 1977b). Females that are interested in this dance move around on their perch, sometimes even following the males when he flew away during his solo display (McDonald 1989b).
Only a very small minority of males mates in any given year; non-alpha males are extremely unlikely to mate, and McDonald (1989a) estimated that only 1 in 55 males was an alpha. Even among alphas, very few are successful at mating. McDonald (1993) reported that four males performed 143 out of 156 observed copulations over a seven-year study period, and 123 of those were performed by only two males (one male had 60 copulations and one had 63). Beta males have been observed to copulate with a female when the alpha male is absent, but it is rare (2 out of 117 copulations observed by McDonald 1989). Females are loyal to their mating courts; no female has been observed to mate at more than one court during a single breeding season, and females have been observed returning to the same court as many as five years in a row. If a female returned to a court more than once in a breeding season, she may mate with the beta male if the alpha is absent, even if she had previously mated with the alpha male (McDonald 1989a, McDonald 2007, McDonald 2010).
Social and interspecific behavior
Males of this species are extremely social, and the bond is especially strong between an alpha and beta pair. These two males appear to stay together year-round, even outside of the breeding time (Foster 1977b). Gamma males also cluster at display courts during the breeding season, and may participate in mating displays (McDonald 1989a). The associations of males at breeding courts appear to be loosely maintained during the non-breeding season (Foster 1977b). Social interactions, specifically the number of connections a gamma male has, have been shown to be correlated with a male’s mating success in the future (McDonald 2007). Female behavior has not been well-described, and outside of the breeding season little is known about the social behavior of the Long-tailed Manakin.
Away from leks, however, Long-tailed Manakin usually is solitary.
Predation on nests has been documented; while predation has not been observed directly, Foster (1976) hypothesized that predators includes snakes, birds, large lizards, and mammals. Outside of nests, no information about predation, predators, or responses to predation has been recorded. McDonald (2010) records that in approximately 15,000 hours spent observing Long-tailed Manakins, a serious predation attempt was never seen, and suggests that there is little or no predation of adult birds.