Show Details

Birdsong Bluster

January 15, 2013

Female songbirds sometimes have a hard time separating truly worthy male crooners from the fly-by-night wannabees.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Untrustworthy tunesters.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People sometimes go to great lengths to impress a potential mate, only to become a less than stellar partner later on. But we’re not the only ones who engage in false advertising when it comes to romance – some animals do it too. Female zebra finches prefer males who sing a lot, perhaps assuming that this reflects good genes.

(sfx: zebra finch song)

But according to a new study, once females pair up with a prodigious songster, he often starts to slack off. University of Exeter behavioral ecologist Morgan David explains that singing takes a lot of energy.

MORGAN DAVID (University of Exeter):

And some males will stop singing because some can’t afford to continue doing it.

HIRSHON:

He says a female can only discover whether her mate’s song is all bluster after they’ve been together for a while, so she may be better served by considering his other qualities as well. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.

Female zebra finches (right) choose males (left) on the basis of several characteristics, including the redness of the male's beak and how often he sings. (Keith Gerstung/Flickr)