April 13, 2010

New Research Finds Infidelity Among Birds

A new book by a York University professor shines new light on the social and mating habits of birds, dispelling the myth that avian species pair up for life.

"In terms of top 10 myths about birds, the permanent pair bonds that we think about, that does occur for some birds, but for most of the little songbirds that we studied, no," Bridget Stutchbury, a biology professor at York University and the author of the forthcoming book The Bird Detective, told Claire Sibonney of Reuters on Monday.

According to an April 12 York University press release, Stutchbury found genetic evidence of female Acadian flycatchers being fertilized by males other than their mate. During her research, the professor witnessed male birds making visits to the females in the nest.

Furthermore, she discovered that many birds change mates after only a few months, with "divorce" rates nearing 99-percent for some species, including the Greater Flamingo.

"There are a number of theories about why birds go their separate ways," Stutchbury said in the press release. "One hypothesis is that birds that are genetically or behaviorally incompatible separate when both can benefit from finding a new partner." Other theories include finding mates that are more colorful, better singers, or located in an area that is safer or has greater access to food.

Favoritism among offspring is another trait the Toronto scientist noticed in avian species.

"We see birds providing extra food and care to one gender of offspring over another, depending on environmental circumstances," says Stutchbury.


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