Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Birds choose sweet-smelling mates

Date:
September 3, 2013
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
For most animals, scent is the instant messenger of choice for quickly exchanging personal profiles. Scientists, however, have long dismissed birds as odor-eschewing Luddites that don't take advantage of scent-based communications. Scientists have now demonstrated that birds do indeed communicate via scents, and that odor reliably predicts their reproductive success.

In a first-of-its-kind study, however, a Michigan State University researcher has demonstrated that birds do indeed communicate via scents, and that odor reliably predicts their reproductive success.
Credit: Courtesy of Nicole Gerlach

For most animals, scent is the instant messenger of choice for quickly exchanging personal profiles. Scientists, however, have long dismissed birds as odor-eschewing Luddites that don't take advantage of scent-based communications.

Related Articles


In a first-of-its-kind study, however, a Michigan State University researcher has demonstrated that birds do indeed communicate via scents, and that odor reliably predicts their reproductive success. The study appears in the current issue of Animal Behaviour and focuses on volatile compounds in avian preen secretions.

Birds' preen glands are located near their tails. Using their beaks, birds extract oil from the glands and rub it on their feathers and legs. Historically, this activity was thought to simply bolster the strength of feathers. Danielle Whittaker, managing director of MSU's BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, and her research team, however, have shown that it plays a key role in signaling reproductive health.

"This study shows a strong connection between the way birds smell near the beginning of the breeding season -- when birds are choosing mates -- and their reproductive success for the entire season," she said. "Simply put, males that smell more 'male-like' and females that smell more 'female-like' have higher genetic reproductive success."

The long-held assumption was that birds' preferred methods of communication and mate selection were visual and acoustic cues. Studying dark-eyed juncos, Whittaker's team compared which were more effective -- chemical signals or size and attractive plumage.

The results showed that individual bird odor correlated with reproduction success while size and plumage were less reliable. The study also revealed that females were making multiple decisions based on how their potential mates smelled.

"Based on odor, females seemed to be not only choosing with which males to mate, but many times they also were selecting different males to raise their nestlings," Whittaker said. "Interestingly enough, the cuckolding males had higher levels of a 'female-like' odor."

In addition, the researchers believe odors serve as beacons for hormone levels, current condition and overall health, and genetic background.

Researchers from Indiana University also contributed to the study. The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.


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. Danielle J. Whittaker, Nicole M. Gerlach, Helena A. Soini, Milos V. Novotny, Ellen D. Ketterson. Bird odour predicts reproductive success. Animal Behaviour, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2013.07.025

Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "Birds choose sweet-smelling mates." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130903123600.htm>.
Michigan State University. (2013, September 3). Birds choose sweet-smelling mates. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130903123600.htm
Michigan State University. "Birds choose sweet-smelling mates." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130903123600.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) Millions of monarch butterflies begin to descend onto Mexico as part of their annual migration south. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Newsy (Dec. 19, 2014) A new study suggests a certain type of bird was able to sense a tornado outbreak that moved through the U.S. a day before it hit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
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

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