Female cowbirds prefer less intense male courtship displays

May 3, 2012

In most species, females prefer the most intense courtship display males can muster, but a new study finds that female cowbirds actually prefer less intense displays. The full results are published May 2 in the open access journal PLoS ONE.

The researchers, led by Adrian O'Loghlen of University of California Santa Barbara, write that males direct more intense wing-spreading displays toward other males as aggressive communicative signals. It appears, however, that while these signals may communicate physical condition to other males, which may help avoid unnecessary physical combat, more intense displays are not optimal behavior, because current physical condition is not the most reliable measure of male quality for females to use when choosing a mate.

"As yet, we don't why males direct these at females but we do know that the songs that accompany these displays are important in female mate choice", says Dr. Adrian O'Loghlen.

Explore further: Should females trust showy males?

More information: PLoS ONE 7(5): e36130. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036130

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