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Courtship: Bowerbirds are all things to all females

April 15, 2004

Why do male bowerbirds go to such elaborate lengths to get a mate? Because different females are impressed by different things, say the authors of a study in the April 15, 2004 Nature.

Male satin bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) decorate their lair with blue objects to catch a female’s eye. If she likes what she sees, she will return when the male is present and watch him strike a series of ritual poses. But it seems that younger females are more impressed by a stylish home. When Seth W. Coleman and his colleagues improved some lairs by adding blue tiles, only females younger than three years still judged the bird by his bower.

More experienced females were more likely to be swayed by the male’s courtship display, the authors found, suggesting that more mature females only use bower decorations to assess a male when he is not around himself. Younger females, on the other hand, may be intimidated by the male’s posturing, so judge him only on his bower, the researchers speculate. “The fear that the male’s display instils in younger females seems to drive age-biased differences in courtship preference,” says Michael J. Ryan in an accompanying News and Views article.

Abstract © 2004 Nature

“Variable female preferences drive complex male displays,” Seth W. Coleman, Gail L. Patricelli and Gerald Borgia, Nature, April 15, 2004

Seth W. Coleman, University of Maryland

To learn more, read Bowerbirds.