Why some female birds don't sing...

When you hear a bird warbling, you probably think the crooner is a male. And chances are if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you would be right. But females also evolved to sing, and many still do—although generally less than the males. One reason may be that it’s more dangerous for them to sing especially when nesting, scientists report today. At least, that’s the case for female fairywrens, the most vocal of which are the most likely to have their eggs and chicks eaten.

The study “provides some of the first field evidence indicating why females of so many songbird species might have lost song,” says Karan Odom, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the lead author of a 2014 study on the evolution of birdsong.

Female superb fairywrens (Malarus cyaneus)—a small Australian species—aren’t the only female songbirds that sing. In fact, females sing in 71% of songbird species, often for territorial defense. In species like the superb fairywren, some females even sing when they’re on their nests, a place where, at least theoretically, they should pipe down so as not to attract predators. Rodents, birds, cats, and foxes have all been seen preying on the fairywrens’ nests. “People had observed [this singing in the nest behavior], but they hadn’t investigated it,” says Sonia Kleindorfer, a behavioral ecologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. “It struck me as odd, and very risky.”

 

 

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