Songbirds Love Public Displays Of Affection

Researchers in Japan have found that songbirds are more passionate in front of an audience, especially that of the opposite sex.

AsianScientist (Oct. 12, 2018) – A team of scientists has found that both sexes of the blue-capped cordon-bleu songbird intensify courtship performances in the presence of an audience. Their findings are published in Science Advances.

Mutual courtship displays have generally been understood as a form of private communication between one male and one female, and many researchers have focused on this aspect. The cordon-bleu is a socially monogamous songbird found in Africa. In its courtship display, both sexes sing and sometimes add a unique dance that resembles tap dancing.

Birds like cordon-bleus that live in flocks are thought to carry out courtship communications in the presence of other birds. However, very little research has been conducted on whether the individuals performing courtship displays are influenced by the presence of other birds.

In the present study, researchers from Hokkaido University in Japan and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, focused on this so-called audience effect. The researchers placed paired bird couples in situations with and without an audience and observed their behavior.

They found that cordon-bleu couples tended to sing more courtship songs accompanied by dancing when an audience—especially if it is a member of the opposite sex—is present. In contrast, courtship displays without dancing were suppressed. Nonetheless, the birds were still directing their courtship dancing toward their partners rather than the audience.

“Performing a more elaborate courtship display toward a partner is likely meant to advertise the relationship to other individuals, which is a significant act among birds who live in flocks,” said Ms. Nao Ota of Hokkaido University who is a co-author of the study.

The researchers hypothesized that loyalty and bonding are necessary for cordon-bleu pairs to maintain long-term coupling relationships.

“This could provide insights into how complex communication signals have developed among animals, including human beings, that establish coupling relationships,” said Ota.

The article can be found at: Ota et al. (2018) Couples Showing Off: Audience Promotes Both Male and Female Multimodal Courtship Display in a Songbird.


Source: Hokkaido University.
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