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Aussie birds 'desperate to copulate with brainy males'

Bit of a desert out there, Sheila

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Top-level boffins, having carried out extensive surreptitious surveillance of Australian females copulating with their chosen sexual companions, have stated that most down-under birds in their test group would prefer a brainy partner.

The Aussie birds in question are not the distaff human populace, but rather a group of "bowerbirds" living near Wallaby Creek. Bowerbirds are so called because the male of the species attracts mates by building a raised platform, or bower. The bird who can build the most distinctive bower will, in general, not lack for feminine companionship. By contrast a dull bower makes for a humdrum evening.

Now, Science magazine reports that meddlesome boffins from America (the University of Maryland, to be precise) have begun using the bower-building process as a test of intelligence and problem-solving ability on the male bower-birds' part.

In particular, it seems that among bowerbird ladies nothing is seen as more naff than red objects on a bower. Such a solecism will normally see the builder of the offending structure cold-shouldered in no uncertain fashion when the love music starts to play.

This led grad student Jason Keagy of Maryland Uni to sneak about, doubtless chuckling evilly to himself, planting red things in the bowers of the luckless Wallaby Creek denizens. In some cases the red items could be removed by shifting a transparent plastic cover, in others they were immovably fixed and only a bit a crafty camouflage using leaves, twigs etc. would hide the shame of the bower's owner. Having done this, Keagy and his fellow scientific japesters rigged up CCTV to cover the area and settled back to await results.

"The best problem-solvers scored the most copulations," reports Science. "Number of copulations per individual during the breeding season ranged from zero to several dozen... the most competent birds averaged about twice as many copulations as the slowest problem-solvers".

QED then, surely. At least one group of Aussie females prefers intelligence above other qualities and is ready to back this up with solid nookie.

On the other hand, if we're understanding this right, it would seem that actually the feathered bird-brains actually just prefer doing it in a bower without any red decor. It's all very puzzling.

As the Science scribes note, it's hard to tell "whether [Australian] females really are selecting mates on the basis of intelligence or on something such as a sexy dance". ®

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