Brightly colored bird bills indicate good health

May 24, 2012

Troy Murphy has found female bill colour reflects the health of the bird. Females with more colourful bills have higher antibody levels, indicating greater strength and the ability to fight off invaders.

"This is so exciting because it means a bird facing a rival with a colourful will be able to assess the rival's and thus assess whether the rival will have lots of energy to invest in a fight," says Dr. Murphy, who conducted his research at the Queen's University Biological Station. "This information can then influence the decision to fight or flee – and, if to flee, how fast it should flee."

The colour of a female bird's bill is strongly correlated with immunoglobulin antibodies, a component of the immune system in . Upon infection, these antibodies allow other immune cells to recognize the diseased cells and destroy them.

Dr. Murphy, who is currently an assistant professor (Biology) at Trinity University in Texas, also discovered there is no relation between immune capacity and male bill colour suggesting elaborately coloured bills have very sex-specific roles.

"Murphy's recent results add to a long tradition of bird behavioural ecology research at our biological station" says Station Director Stephen Lougheed. "Results like Dr. Murphy's clarify our understanding of how behaviour, colour and song are used in critical interactions among individuals, especially contests between members of the same sex and courtship between members of opposite sex."

The results of this research will be published in an upcoming issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.

Explore further: Scientists target mess from Christmas tree needles

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Human vision inadequate for research on bird vision

May 12, 2008

The most attractive male birds attract more females and as a result are most successful in terms of reproduction. This is the starting point of many studies looking for factors that influence sexual selection in birds. However, ...

Elaborate plumage due to testosterone?

Oct 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In many bird species males have a more elaborate plumage than females. This elaborate plumage is often used to signal body condition, to intimidate rivals or to attract potential mates. In ...

How do bumblebees get predators to buzz off?

May 26, 2010

Toxic or venomous animals, like bumblebees, are often brightly coloured to tell would-be predators to keep away. However scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London and Queen Mary, University of London ...

The burly bird catches the girl

Aug 17, 2011

While the early bird might catch the worm, it's the quick bird that lands the ladies, according to new research into the running performance of an Arctic cousin of the grouse.

Recommended for you

Scientists target mess from Christmas tree needles

7 hours ago

The presents are unwrapped. The children's shrieks of delight are just a memory. Now it's time for another Yuletide tradition: cleaning up the needles that are falling off your Christmas tree.

The ants that conquered the world

Dec 24, 2014

About one tenth of the world's ants are close relatives; they all belong to just one genus out of 323, called Pheidole. "If you go into any tropical forest and take a stroll, you will step on one of these ...

Ants show left bias when exploring new spaces

Dec 23, 2014

Unlike Derek Zoolander, ants don't have any difficulty turning left. New research from the University of Bristol, UK published today in Biology Letters, has found that the majority of rock ants instinctively go lef ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.