Valentines Day Natures Way!

Happy Valentines Day everyone!

There are 10,426 species of bird alive today. Some of nature's most intricate and astonishing courtship displays are carried out by avian species. However, Bowerbirds take female courtship to the next level.  Journey into the world of Bowerbirds this Valentine's day and find out how males will seek to impress their female not with jewellery - but with a bottle cap.  

There are 20 different species of Bowerbird, all of which are confined to the islands of Australia and New Guinea. Like many bird species, the males are the most exuberant and the females are fairly dull in comparison (image above). This is not accidental, this sexual dimorphism is partially explained by female mate choice, therefore, it is in the male's best interest to dress to impress. Male bowerbirds are famous for being nature’s most innovative bachelor pad engineer! A males bachelor pad goes a long way in determining whether or not he will be alone this Valentine’s Day.

Constructing an enticing love nest is not easy:

Bowerbird bachelor pads are known as bowers, and these constructions come in one of three forms it all depends on the species of Bowerbird (image below: Avenue, Display court or a Maypole). Female Bowerbirds are solo parents allowing the males to spend 80% of their day constructing their grand exhibits made from woven sticks and twigs.

Once completed it is up to the males to add their own decorative flair to entice the females. Interestingly, females from different species of Bowerbirds show preferences to certain colours and what better way to impress a female than for a male to decorate his bower in her favourite colour… how romantic. Males spend all year collecting coloured objects that he believes will impress her these have been shown to include bottle caps, pieces of plastic, glass, car keys, keyrings, spider webbing, colourful dead insect skeletons, shells and flowers. Flowers seem to be a universal gift to give to females and are the most common type of decoration seen in bowers.

In a study, male Satin Bowerbirds were given a choice of 70 species of flowers in various colours. Males were shown to be extremely picky with the bouquet of flowers they selected. Only 29 flower species made it to the bower, in which 7 made up 93% of floral decorations. The most common flower colours were blue and purple, whereas, orange, pinks and red were completely absent. So much for red being a romantic colour.
Could you guess what colour female Satin Bowerbirds love (image below)?

Female courtship is a multi-step process. The first stage of courtship involves the male removing himself from his bower, allowing for the bachelor pad to talk for itself. It is up to the female to assess whether or not the bower qualifies for the next stage. The decorations chosen by the individual male therefore, is of crucial importance. During the mating season, male rivalry gets fierce other these objects, each female only chooses one male for that season.  Males have been spotted stealing objects from rival bowers, and even going as far as Sabotage! Nature can be so scandalous but all is fair in love and war, right?  At the end of the day, beautifully decorated bowers get a male one step closer to his goal.
Courtship displays go a long way:
All courtship displays in birds have a flair for the dramatic and often involve feather-puffing, wing extension and even a little running, for bowerbirds this is often accompanied with a loud buzzing vocalisation. In fact, take a look at the video link below to see these males in action!
Now for any male that is reading this, I am not suggesting that you win a lady over by headbutting her chest. However, what you may have noticed is just how intense the courtship displays can be in Bowerbirds. Those movements used to entice females are the same movements used in male-male conflict, thereby running the risk of scaring away his potential lover. Female Bowerbirds have mastered a signal to let the males know when to crank up the intensity of his courtship allowing males to tailor their displays to each female's preference. If males are to be successful they have to be sure to read his females wishes.

A female's needs change with age:
As a woman on Valentine's day, I find myself comparing what I look for in a man (and his gifts LOL) today from when I was younger, needless to say, it’s changed. Females in the animal kingdom are not so different.
Coleman et al set out to investigate age biased preferences in female bowerbirds. The researchers provided a set number of bowers with extra decorations (known as the treatment bowers) and leaving others unmanipulated (the control bowers). They tested how many visits each bower got from females of different ages.
What they found was very interesting and mirrors aspects of our own society. Younger bowerbird females showed a strong mating preference towards males with heavily decorated bowers. However, older bowerbird females were not won over by the pretty objects offered to them, or the bachelor's decorative flair in his pad, they favoured males with the most intense courtship displays.
There you have it the pretty young things on the block select males for mating based on the objects used to decorate his love nest. Whereas decorated objects are not enough to woo a female above the age of three, males will have to work a little harder.
What have we learnt from today? Not every woman is the same and not so easily lifted off her feet. A word of caution to all those partners out there that forgot to order the rose bouquet early, although female bowerbirds are impressed with a collection of objects like plastic caps and so on, do not attempt to mimic all the male bowerbirds tricks… you may find yourself single again by the end of the night.
Now  I am off to celebrate not Valentine's day but Galentines (celebration of friendship). A night filled with pizza, ice cream and my squads favourite movies, whether they be romantic or not.
Until next week Friday my lovely readers have an amazing day whoever you choose to spend it with.

Science in the City


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