Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Avian 'Axe effect' attracts attention of females and males

Date:
July 19, 2011
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
In a case of life imitating art, avian scents given off by male songbirds have the females (and males) flocking in. A researcher has revealed the process of how males draw attention to themselves through chemical communication in a new study. Scents are used in all organisms for many purposes, such as finding, attracting and evaluating mates. But this is the first study of its kind that demonstrates that it is happening among songbirds.

Danielle Whittaker, BEACON researcher, used dark-eyed juncos to demonstrate how songbirds use scent to attract mates.
Credit: Photo courtesy of BEACON

In a case of life imitating art, avian scents given off by male songbirds have the females (and males) flocking in.

A Michigan State University researcher revealed the process of how males draw attention to themselves through chemical communication in the current issue of Behavioral Ecology. Scents are used in all organisms for many purposes, such as finding, attracting and evaluating mates. But this is the first study of its kind that demonstrates that it is happening among songbirds, said Danielle Whittaker, managing director of MSU's BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

Body-spray commercials feature young men dousing themselves with fragrance and -- voila -- hordes of beautiful women or even bands of angels descend upon them. Male birds deploy a similar tactic when they release their cologne -- or preen oil -- secreted from a gland at the base of their tail. It not only works to attract the attention of female birds, but it also has the unintended effect of attracting males as well.

"It's kind of like the 'Axe effect,' in that females were attracted to the scent and didn't seem to care where it came from, meaning their own population or a different one -- even though birds in these populations look and behave differently," Whittaker said. "And I think the males were drawn in as an aggressive response to the scent of another male."

Traditionally, songbirds have been written off in terms of using their sense of smell because they have the smallest olfactory bulbs relative to brain size among all birds. Recently, however, researchers have discovered that songbirds harbor a high number of olfactory receptors, and they've been able to prove that the birds are capable of using odors to help find their way.

So, Whittaker and her collaborators in Ellen Ketterson's lab at Indiana University weren't surprised to discover that the birds used scent in attracting mates. Some eyebrows were raised, though, when they learned how attractive the scent was across populations and sexes. Another interesting find was that when given a choice, the female birds preferred the odor of the smaller males, Whittaker said.

"However, in a previous study, when they got to see the actual birds, they tended to prefer larger males with larger plumage ornaments," she said. "Based on these results, I'm hoping to find out how and why small, unattractive males overcompensate by producing greater amounts of an attractive scent."

MSU's BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a National Science Foundation-funded Science and Technology Center, has partners at North Carolina A&T State University, University of Idaho, University of Texas at Austin and University of Washington.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. D. J. Whittaker, K. M. Richmond, A. K. Miller, R. Kiley, C. Bergeon Burns, J. W. Atwell, E. D. Ketterson. Intraspecific preen oil odor preferences in dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis). Behavioral Ecology, 2011; DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arr122

Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "Avian 'Axe effect' attracts attention of females and males." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110719151906.htm>.
Michigan State University. (2011, July 19). Avian 'Axe effect' attracts attention of females and males. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110719151906.htm
Michigan State University. "Avian 'Axe effect' attracts attention of females and males." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110719151906.htm (accessed April 25, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, April 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) A disease that has killed more than six million cave-dwelling bats in the United States is on the move and wildlife biologists are worried. White Nose Syndrome, discovered in New York in 2006, has now spread to 25 states. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Blood From World's Oldest Woman Suggests Life Limit

Blood From World's Oldest Woman Suggests Life Limit

Newsy (Apr. 24, 2014) Scientists say for the extremely elderly, their stem cells might reach a state of exhaustion. This could limit one's life span. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Kangaroo Rescued from Swimming Pool

Raw: Kangaroo Rescued from Swimming Pool

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) A kangaroo was saved from drowning in a backyard suburban swimming pool in Australia's Victoria state on Thursday. Australian broadcaster Channel 7 showed footage of the kangaroo struggling to get out of the pool. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Marijuana Use Lead To Serious Heart Problems?

Could Marijuana Use Lead To Serious Heart Problems?

Newsy (Apr. 24, 2014) A new study says marijuana use could lead to serious heart-related complications. 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