As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Thursday 13 April 2017

Do smart songbirds always get the girl?

Study tests the links between cognition, sexiness and male songbirds' ability to serenade

Date: April 3, 2017
Source: Florida Atlantic University

If the early bird catches the worm, then does the smart songbird get the girl? That's what a researcher at Florida Atlantic University and collaborators from the University of Miami, Duke University, and the College of Charleston were determined to find out in a new study published in the journal Animal Cognition. Compelling evidence shows females prefer mates with better cognitive abilities in a number of animals including fish, birds, rodents and even humans. For male songbirds, their ability to sing complex songs has been suggested to signal cognitive ability and is vital for attracting females as well as repelling rival males. However, what's not clear is how female songbirds can judge the cognitive abilities of potential mates, which is a necessary first step if smarter mates are preferred over their not-as-smart counterparts.

"It would be so much easier for female songbirds to choose smarter males as their mates if male songbirds advertised their intelligence with physical attributes like bright colors and exaggerated feathers," said Rindy Anderson, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an assistant professor of biological sciences in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. "Since songbirds don't appear to have physical displays of their cognitive ability, we focused on a learned sexual display, which is their songs."

Just as babies learn how to talk by babbling, young male songbirds copy and practice songs that they hear produced by other males in neighborhoods in which they will later establish their own territories. In some songbird populations, female preference is based on the extent of a male's accuracy to copy songs as well as their song repertoire -- the larger his repertoire the more successful he will be with females.

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