Duetting birds found to be unfaithful
- Published online 20 December 2007 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2007.395Duetting birds found to be unfaithfulThose sing-a-longs don’t mean bird pairs will stick together.Matt KaplanBirds like California towhees that sing together don't necessarily stick together.JIM ZIPP / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARYBirds that sing in harmonious duets with one another have always been considered monogamous partners, with the singing thought to help in building faithful relationships. Now, research has shown at least that one such species sleeps around.Lauryn Benedict of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, studied duetting California towhees (Pipilo crissalis ). She found that although female birds sang with the same male every day, more than one-quarter of their chicks were not fathered by her ‘husband’.“I’ve never caught a female in the act of cheating, they’re very secretive about their trysts,” says Benedict. But the duetting pairs copulate regularly together, she says.Ornithologists "perceived the beautiful harmonies of these birds as creating a sense of fidelity, but I suspected we were missing something”, says Daniel Mennill of the University of Windsor in Ontario.It’s uncertain whether the males in the pairs are also cheating, or how they would react if they caught their partner sneaking around. In the reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus ) and a few other bird species, the male feeds the young less often if it suspects the female of cheating, presumably because he knows the kids might not be his, says Benedict.The extent of the cheating in other duetting birds (including love birds, for example) remains unclear. Most such birds live in tropical forests, where they are hard to access for field studies. It is possible that a more competitive environment may force these birds to be faithful for the sake of survival, says Benedict, but the only way to find out would be to head to the jungle.*References1. Benedict, L. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. doi: 10.1007/s00265-007-0524-x (2007).