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Bower Birds Detect When They're Being Creeps

by College Magazine on March 02, 2011
by Lauren Simenauer > Junior > Biology > University of Virginia
A male Bowerbird decorates his nest with sexy blue trash
A male Bowerbird decorates his nest with sexy blue trash

By Lauren Simenauer > Sex & Dating Blogger

Human males may still be millennia away from “getting the hint,” but researchers at University of California, Davis have demonstrated that male Bower Birds respond to female birds’ postures, and correct the intensity of their mating dances accordingly.
 
 
The attention of the behavioral ecology spotlight first turned to Bower Birds at the discovery of their peculiar nesting practices.  In order to seduce the ladies, the male Bower Bird will decorate its nest with pieces of trash, which has become a problem since the advent of plastic, because these Bower Birds find blue bottle caps especially sexy.
 
However, for the older and wiser females, a nest with a lot of sexy trash simply doesn’t cut it.  As a result, the Bower Birds have developed another ritual related to their seductive nest-embellishing: the notorious mating dance.  When a decorated nest isn’t enough, a female Bower Bird will wait for her potential mate to seal the deal by doing a little dance.  If he’s got the right moves, she might submit to copulation.  Incidentally, as the intensity of the dance increases, so does the probability that a female will flee.  Gail Patricelli and her colleagues discovered, using a robotic female, that a male Bower Bird can address this problem by adjusting the intensity of his dance moves in response to the posture of the females.
 
In her observations of the female Bower Bird, Patricelli discovered that a female will indicate her receptiveness to a mate by crouching.  So, she developed the “fembot”—a robotic Bower Bird to aid her experiments.  Patricelli detailed in Nature how she used controlled experiments to determine the effectiveness of the “fembot.”  She then manipulated the fembot’s crouch rate in order to determine whether male Bower Birds would adjust the intensity of their dancing to match the females.  Patricelli observed that a greater dance intensity yielded more mating success. 
 
However, birds that were less likely to “startle” the females with their dance moves also showed a higher likelihood of mating success.  Her data suggests that her hypothesis was correct: male Bower Birds who modulate their dance intensity show greater numbers of copulations.  This mating strategy lends itself to a conception of natural selection in which males who understand the receptiveness of females better will be more likely to pass on their genes, which might, in turn, produce male Bower Birds who are more in tune with what a girl wants.
 
Now if only these Bower Birds would pass along the information to Homo sapiens.
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