University of Oxford: Bold male birds fall faster and harder for their partners

October 01, 2018

Research from Oxford University has revealed that bold male birds focus on forming strong relationships with their future breeding partners while shy male birds play the field.

A new study from the Department of Zoology, Oxford University, has found that the individual personalities of male great tits influences how they bond with their future breeding partner.

The bolder, more proactive, males choose their future partners sooner, as well as putting more effort into their relationship before the breeding season begins. Shy males are less devoted to forming a strong pair bond, and instead spend more of their time flocking with other females.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, demonstrate how individual differences in behaviour can shape the formation of crucial social relationships in the wild.

Dr Josh Firth, who led the research, said: "Finding a mating partner is of upmost importance to these birds, just as it is for many species across the animal kingdom. We wanted to ask why individuals of the same species differ so much in how much effort they put into forming these relationships."

The research, which was carried out at Oxford University's Wytham Woods, assessed the personalities of hundreds of individual wild great tits, and then used radio-frequency identification tags to track the birds' social networks over multiple years.

Dr Firth added: "We show that personality plays an important role explaining the differences in pair-bonding tactics; proactive males dedicate more time to their chosen future partner, even long before mating begins, while the less proactive males take the alternative option of sampling lots of different females right up until the breeding season actually starts."

"Through linking differences in male bird's behaviour to different mating strategies, the findings suggest their may be no 'best personality' to have, and therefore help explain why we even see these differences in personalities in the first place. It could well be the case that being bold and proactive is better for finding a good partner in some social situations, while more reserved strategies are preferable in others."

The researchers hope that the findings will promote more studies into how individual behavioural differences can shape social relationships across many species, and what consequences this might have for the structure of societies.
-end-
Notes to editors

The study, titled 'Personality shapes pair bonding in a wild bird social system', is published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, DOI number 10.1038/s41559-018-0670-8, embargoed until 11:00 US Eastern Time.

For further information, a copy of the full study, or to arrange an interview, please contact Ruth Abrahams in the University of Oxford press office at ruth.abrahams@admin.ox.ac.uk or on +44 (0)1865 280730.

Josh Firth can be contacted directly at joshua.firth@zoo.ox.ac.uk

University of Oxford

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