From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published June 25, 2012 02:11 PM

Pretty Female Blue Tits Keep their Mates

The Blue Tit is a small passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. The bird is easily recognizable by its brilliant blue and yellow plumage. Throughout Europe and western Asia, the blue tit is one of the most colorful birds to engage in their annual hormone-driven mating spectacle. Not unlike some among their human counterparts, male blue tits lose interest when their female mates’ beauty starts fading, staying out longer and neglecting their offspring, a new research report said in the journal of Frontiers in Zoology. Scientists who dulled the bright blue head tinge that crowns the female of the species, subsequently noticed the males skulking off for more alone time and making fewer trips to feed their chicks.


There are currently around 20-44 million pairs in Europe. The Blue Tit and the related hybrids are considered native species in areas of the European continent with a mainly temperate or Mediterranean climate, and in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

"It seems that they stay around, but not in the nest," study co-author Matteo Griggio stated about the male blue tit. "Probably they take a rest…. It is not a joke, probably they keep some energy, maybe for the next breeding season?"

Both male and female blue tits, which usually have several mating partners in a lifetime, have feathers on the tops of their heads that reflect UV blue light.

For the purposes of the experiment, the team from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology in Vienna waited for chicks to hatch before smearing an oil containing UV-blocking chemicals on the crowns of the females.

To confirm that it would not be the smell that put off the males, they applied the same oil, without UV-blockers, to a separate test group of females.

The scientists said they took care not to render the partners unrecognizable to each other.

While all males protected their mate and chicks with equal fervor, the males with the less attractive mates made significantly less foraging trips to feed their chicks. Less food means the young are not as strong, healthy and competitive as others, lessening their chance of surviving and reproducing themselves. "The UV reflectance of the crown plumage of female blue tits significantly affected male investment in feeding nestlings," explain the authors.

Not only does the guy’s looks matter in courtship: previous research has shown that if you dampen a male tit’s UV coloration after his chicks are born, his lovely mate will be derelict in her motherly duties, leading to weaker offspring.

For further information see Science Sushi and Stepping Out.

Blue Tit image via Wikipedia.

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