Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Shedding Feathers Early May Enhance Sex Appeal, New Songbird Study Shows

Date:
January 13, 2005
Source:
Queen's University
Summary:
Birds that migrate early in the season may have a distinct advantage when it comes to attracting the opposite sex, say researchers from Queen's University and the Smithsonian Institution. And it's all about the feathers.

Kingston, ON -- Birds that migrate early in the season may have a distinct advantage when it comes to attracting the opposite sex, say researchers from Queen's University and the Smithsonian Institution.

And it's all about the feathers.

Researchers were surprised to discover that the timing of a male songbird's reproduction cycle affects the colour of his feathers and may have important implications for his success in attracting mates. When migratory songbirds raise their young extremely late in the summer, many don't have time to molt (shed their feathers and replace with new growth) before heading south, the new study shows.

"This means they must molt at stopover sites on their journey to tropical winter habitats," explains Ryan Norris, who conducted the research as part of his PhD in biology at Queen's, supervised by Professors Laurene Ratcliffe (Queen's Biology) and Peter Marra (Smithsonian Environmental Research Center).

"Their replacement feathers, grown en route, are less colourful than those of birds that had time to molt before migration, which may put them at a disadvantage in attracting females the following breeding season," says Dr. Norris. "Both findings – that molting in some songbirds occurs after migration has begun, and that their new feathers are duller in colour – were surprising."

The study will be published Dec. 24 in the journal Science.

Until now scientists have assumed that most species of migratory birds molt before they migrate. The team discovered that in fact some begin their migration, molt at a "stopover" site, then continue to their winter habitat. Forty per cent of the male American Redstarts in the study molted in their tail feathers at areas up to 2000 kilometers south of their breeding grounds.

By measuring stable hydrogen isotopes in the newly grown feathers when birds returned the following spring to breed at the Queen's University Biology Station north of Kingston, the researchers were able to determine the approximate region where molting had occurred. And when the feathers were analyzed with a spectrometer measuring how much light of different wavelengths is reflected, significant differences in colour were also detected.

A key indicator of the songbirds' health and quality is the concentration of carotenoid in the feathers, which causes orange-red light to be reflected in their feathers. Physiological stress during molting can reduce carotenoid deposits in the feathers.

"Studies of other bird species have shown that females prefer males with higher concentrations of carotenoids, and thus brighter, more intense colours," says Queen's biologist Bob Montgomerie, who did the colour analysis of feathers for this project. "What we didn't know until now is that birds' colours in any given year may be affected by what happened to them in the previous breeding season.

"That's exciting because 'cost of reproduction' is a general, organism-wide problem of many species, not just birds."

The other member of the research team from Queen's is geology professor Kurt Kyser, director of the university's Facility for Isotope Research, where the stable isotope measurements were conducted.

###

The study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT), National Science Foundation (NSF), the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Museum of Natural History.


Story Source:

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


Cite This Page:

Queen's University. "Shedding Feathers Early May Enhance Sex Appeal, New Songbird Study Shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 January 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050111175057.htm>.
Queen's University. (2005, January 13). Shedding Feathers Early May Enhance Sex Appeal, New Songbird Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050111175057.htm
Queen's University. "Shedding Feathers Early May Enhance Sex Appeal, New Songbird Study Shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050111175057.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

AP (July 28, 2014) Classes are being offered nationwide to encourage African Americans to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine. The program is trying to combat obesity, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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