Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cowbird Casanovas' Feathery Brawn And Winning Songs Have Brainpower Behind Them, Cornell Researchers Find

Date:
May 10, 2000
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
While ornithologists consider cowbirds the parasites of the bird world -- commandeering the nests of other birds, hoarding their food and causing starvation -- Cornell University behavioral researchers know these songbirds have a redeeming quality: They carry an important, evolutionary tune.

ITHACA, N.Y. -- While ornithologists consider cowbirds the parasites of the bird world -- commandeering the nests of other birds, hoarding their food and causing starvation -- Cornell University behavioral researchers know these songbirds have a redeeming quality: They carry an important, evolutionary tune.

Related Articles


Like the Mick Jaggers of music, male cowbirds attract females by strutting their masculine feather colors or by their singing ability. But the Cornell scientists have found that both songs and mating rituals correlate with the size of the cowbird brain.

"The female cowbirds are looking only for your genes, so that if you're a male cowbird, you had better look darn good," says Mark E. Hauber, a Cornell doctoral student in neurobiology and behavior. "You had better advertise yourself."

Before this latest research, data that showed a connection between an animal's brain size and mating behavior relied mostly on guesswork, says Timothy J. DeVoogd, Cornell associate professor of psychology. "This is the first time this information has been correlated in a parasitic bird species. No one has ever done this before. Surprisingly there is a close correlation between brain size and a cowbird's abilities and behavior."

The research, "Sexual Dimorphism and Species Differences in HVC Volumes of Cowbirds," appeared in Behavioral Neuroscience, a journal of the American Psychological Association (Vol. 113, Number 5.)

Cowbirds, which are found in North, Central and South America, are medium-sized black birds, that, in some cases, such as shiny cowbirds, also have brown feathers. The birds' songs sweep a large range of frequencies, sounding "like a gargoyle, very bubbly, not very melodious -- like water dripping from a faucet," says Hauber.

The researchers note that the cowbird appears to have brought Darwinian theory clearly into focus. "We think that visual and sexual selection factors seem to go hand-in-hand," says

Hauber. "The better the song, the better the feathers, the better the mate. In a way, we can tell from the brain size who gets mates and who doesn't."

Inside the cowbird brain is a high vocal center, or HVC, and the scientists have correlated HVC size with sexual differences and sexual preferences. To do this, Hauber and DeVoogd studied the shiny cowbird, the screaming cowbird and the bay-winged cowbird, all native to South America.

They learned that the promiscuous, male shiny cowbirds have large brains and sing forcefully, while the females, whose brains are smaller, do not. While the screaming and bay-winged male cowbirds also sing for sex, these birds are monogamous. Interestingly, both male and female bay-winged cowbirds have a similar HVC size -- and the females sing like the males.

Hauber says that cowbirds are a great scientific model. "Through them we do a lot of learning about their reproductive and social behavior, signals in mating and male competition."

In addition to Hauber and DeVoogd, the research was authored by Nicola Clayton, University of California, Davis; Alex Kacelnik, University of Oxford, United Kingdom; and Juan C. Reboreda, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. The research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, a Wellcome Trust grant, the Whitehall Foundation, the British Council and Conicet. Hauber also received a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellowship.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Cowbird Casanovas' Feathery Brawn And Winning Songs Have Brainpower Behind Them, Cornell Researchers Find." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 May 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/05/000510065646.htm>.
Cornell University. (2000, May 10). Cowbird Casanovas' Feathery Brawn And Winning Songs Have Brainpower Behind Them, Cornell Researchers Find. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/05/000510065646.htm
Cornell University. "Cowbird Casanovas' Feathery Brawn And Winning Songs Have Brainpower Behind Them, Cornell Researchers Find." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/05/000510065646.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

Buzz60 (Dec. 17, 2014) Urbanspoon predicts whicg food trends will dominate the culinary scene in 2015. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins