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Zebra finch females prefer males with redder bills independent of song rate--a meta-analysis


  • Mirre J.P. Simons
  • Simon Verhulst


Male zebra finches display multiple secondary sexual traits such as song and red bill coloration. This color is dependent on carotenoids, which enhance immune function and are antioxidants. A red bill may thus function as an indicator signal. The zebra finch is extensively used in the study of carotenoid-dependent signaling. However, studies of female mate preferences for redder bills show mixed results. Here, we report a meta-analysis of mate-choice studies that reveals that female zebra finches do prefer males with redder bills (r = 0.61), except when there was reduced opportunity for imprinting or when bill color was experimentally manipulated, which both reduced preference for red bills to approximately zero. The latter may either be due to aspects of the experimental design or due to bill color being correlated with another trait such as song rate as was previously suggested. We show, however, in a separate meta-analysis on a different set of studies that the correlation between bill coloration and song rate (r = 0.14) was significantly lower than the r = 0.61 between bill color and attractiveness. We conclude, therefore, that the role of bill coloration in mate choice cannot be solely due to an association with song rate. Thus, we conclude that females do prefer males with redder bills when there was sufficient opportunity for sexual imprinting, but to what extent this is causally related to the bill color remains to be established. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Mirre J.P. Simons & Simon Verhulst, 2011. "Zebra finch females prefer males with redder bills independent of song rate--a meta-analysis," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 22(4), pages 755-762.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:beheco:v:22:y:2011:i:4:p:755-762

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