Finch: Picky Female

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ambience: finch songs

One of the ways a female bird chooses her mate is by listening to his song. It turns out that the song may contain important clues about the suitability of the suitor. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Jeff Podos is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He regularly plays male finch songs to female finches as he tries to figure out why females choose the mates they do.

“What we’ve been talking about with respect to song perception, up till now really has to do with species recognition, so whether or not let’s say a female will be able to say that male singing is from my species or from another species. But it turns out that there is also some more refined sorts of questions that females can be asking when they’re assessing cues that the males provide. They might be making decisions about who they want to mate with within their species.”

Jeff Podos and his team recently showed that beak size affects the tone of a finch’s song. Now he believes that the female finch may use these tonal cues to choose a mate.

“And there might be a range of males that she has a choice of mating with. And they’re producing their songs, which provide clues and maybe the female is able to use the song to say, well that sounds like a larger billed version of my species and that other song maybe sounds like maybe a smaller billed version of the same species and I want to mate with a larger beaked male this season because it’s a drought year and if I mate with a larger beaked male then my offspring will tend to have larger beaks and they will be more likely to survive on the available food resources. So there’s another level of resolution to which we would like to take these studies, because females are certainly using some sorts of queues to distinguish among males of their species and we just really don’t know what that would be at this point.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

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Finch: Picky Female

What's in a song? For female finches, the notes reveal more about suitors than just a romantic interest.
Air Date:08/26/2002
Scientist:
Transcript:


music
ambience: finch songs

One of the ways a female bird chooses her mate is by listening to his song. It turns out that the song may contain important clues about the suitability of the suitor. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Jeff Podos is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He regularly plays male finch songs to female finches as he tries to figure out why females choose the mates they do.

"What we’ve been talking about with respect to song perception, up till now really has to do with species recognition, so whether or not let’s say a female will be able to say that male singing is from my species or from another species. But it turns out that there is also some more refined sorts of questions that females can be asking when they're assessing cues that the males provide. They might be making decisions about who they want to mate with within their species."

Jeff Podos and his team recently showed that beak size affects the tone of a finch's song. Now he believes that the female finch may use these tonal cues to choose a mate.

"And there might be a range of males that she has a choice of mating with. And they’re producing their songs, which provide clues and maybe the female is able to use the song to say, well that sounds like a larger billed version of my species and that other song maybe sounds like maybe a smaller billed version of the same species and I want to mate with a larger beaked male this season because it’s a drought year and if I mate with a larger beaked male then my offspring will tend to have larger beaks and they will be more likely to survive on the available food resources. So there’s another level of resolution to which we would like to take these studies, because females are certainly using some sorts of queues to distinguish among males of their species and we just really don’t know what that would be at this point."

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music