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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 05:50 GMT 06:50 UK
Best singers attract prettiest birds
Female birds will opt for a 'more talented' mate
Song birds hoping to attract a mate use no more effort in warbling a fancy tune than with a simple "cheep cheep", a study has revealed.

Experts researching how much hard work winged lotharios put into wooing a partner made the discovery while observing canaries.

They found that the birds were spending the same amount of energy no matter how elaborate their song.

But amorous males who belt out any old tune risk becoming feathered flop idols because females can spot real talent, scientists say.

A team of biologists at the University of St Andrews studied the songs of two breeds - the Fife canary and the Roller canary.

The Fife canary has a loud and complex song while the Roller canary has a very simple and quiet one, Dr Sally Ward and Prof Peter Slater of the University's School of Biology, who led the research, observed.

They expected that the most complex songs were the result of extra effort or "energetic cost", but found that this was not the case.

Higher quality males - with better brains or better co-ordination of their vocal tracts for example - may be better able to sing these more complex songs
Dr Sally Ward
Dr Ward explained: "We studied whether singing is energetically costly for song birds because it intuitively appears to be hard work.

"We expected that the loud varied song of the Fife canary might be quite hard work to produce while the quiet repetitive song of the Roller canary would be easier.

"This was not the case. Singing didn't take much energy for either breed of canary and there was no difference between the breeds."

But the scientists say that female birds know it is "cheap to cheep" and are more likely to swoon into the nests of better singers.

"In the case of the canaries, they have fooled us into thinking it looks like hard work.

"However, it probably doesn't fool female canaries who will look for other cues such as particular phrases in a song that may be technically difficult to produce.

"Higher quality males - with better brains or better co-ordination of their vocal tracts for example - may be better able to sing these more complex songs."

Dr Ward said that competition is fierce when love is in the air and male birds will pull out all the stops, displaying colourful plumage, elaborate dances and tuneful songs, to attract a mate.

The Fife Canary
A loud and complex tune

The Roller Canary
Quiet and repetitive

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