Nav: Home

The trouble with being a handsome bird

June 27, 2017

Male birds often use brightly coloured plumage to be attractive to females. However, such eye-catching trimmings may also attract unwanted attention from predators. Now, a new study led by Monash University has found that showy males indeed perceive themselves to be at a greater risk of predation.

The study's lead author, PhD student Alex McQueen, from the School of Biological Sciences, studied risk-taking behaviour in Australia's favourite bird, the superb fairy wren, also known as the blue wren. Every year, male wrens change their colour from dull brown to a stunning combination of brilliant azure blue, with contrasting dark-blue and black plumage.

This annual colour change makes them a useful study species for measuring the risk of being brightly coloured, as the behaviour of the same individual bird can be compared while he is in different colours.

As part of this study, published in the Royal Society Journal Proceedings B, researchers snuck up on unsuspecting fairy-wrens. They then broadcast fairy-wren alarm calls from portable speakers, and observed the behaviour of the birds.

"When birds hear such alarm calls, it tells them there might be a predator nearby," says Alex. "Whether they ignore the alarm or flee to cover, and the amount of time taken to re-appear from cover, tells us how high they perceive their predation risk to be.

"We found that fairy-wrens were more cautious while they were bright blue: they fled more often in response to alarm calls, and took longer to re-emerge from hiding. They also spent more time in cover, and more time scanning their surroundings."

Alex's supervisor, Associate Professor Anne Peters said an interesting observation was that brown fairy-wrens appeared to take advantage of the risks faced by blue males.

Fairy-wrens go about in social groups, often made up of individuals in different plumage colours.

"When a blue male was nearby, fairy-wrens spent less time hiding in cover after fleeing in response to alarm calls, and devoted less time to keeping a look-out," Associate Professor Peters said.

"This could be because the dull brown wrens view blue males as a colourful decoy that reduces their own risk, or because blue males are more vigilant, allowing the brown wrens to drop their guard."

The study, which was done in collaboration with Professor Rob Magrath from the Australian National University (ANU), shows that fairy-wrens perceive themselves to be at higher risk when they display their bright blue plumage, and adjust their behaviour accordingly.
-end-


Monash University

Related Birds Articles:

How birds evolved big brains
An international team of evolutionary biologists and paleontologists have reconstructed the evolution of the avian brain using a massive dataset of brain volumes from dinosaurs, extinct birds like Archaeopteryx and the great auk, and modern birds.
Microelectronics for birds
Ornithologists and physicists from St Petersburg University have conducted an interdisciplinary study together with colleagues from Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Biological Station Rybachy of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Birds of a feather better not together
A new study of North American birds from Washington University in St.
Not-so-dirty birds? Not enough evidence to link wild birds to food-borne illness
Despite the perception that wild birds in farm fields can cause food-borne illness, a WSU study has found little evidence linking birds to E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter outbreaks.
Birds are shrinking as the climate warms
After 40 years of collecting birds that ran into Chicago buildings, scientists have been able to show that the birds have been shrinking as the climate's warmed up.
Diving birds follow each other when fishing
Diving seabirds watch each other to work out when to dive, new research shows.
Why do birds migrate at night?
Researchers found migratory birds maximize how much light they get from their environment, so they can migrate even at night. 
How can robots land like birds?
Birds can perch on a wide variety of surfaces, thick or thin, rough or slick.
Is wildfire management 'for the birds?'
Spotted owl populations are in decline all along the West Coast, and as climate change increases the risk of large and destructive wildfires in the region, these iconic animals face the real threat of losing even more of their forest habitat.
Feathers came first, then birds
New research, led by the University of Bristol, suggests that feathers arose 100 million years before birds -- changing how we look at dinosaurs, birds, and pterosaurs, the flying reptiles.
More Birds News and Birds Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.