sad bird science

You Can’t Be Both Hot and Talented, If You’re a Male Bird

Photo: De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

When you hear the words “hot male singer,” who comes to mind? A human, like Britt Daniel from Spoon, or a bird, like a bird that you saw outside? If the person who comes to mind isn’t a bird, there may be a reason, according to a new study from biologist Christopher Cooney and his colleagues at the University of Oxford.

According to a report from New Scientist, Clooney and co. collected the songs of 518 species of birds, and compared the quality of the songs with the colors of the birds’ plumage. “In particular, they looked at how much feathers differed between the males and females of each species,” says New Scientist, “a sign that sexual selection has influenced their plumage.”

They found that in species where male birds had showier feathers than the females, the songs they sang to attract a mate were shittier and more boring (or, “less interesting, more monotonous”). In the species where the male and female birds look more alike, the male birds sang longer songs, with a larger range of musical notes. Very sexy!

Clooney’s team didn’t find any link between the traits and habitat, so it’s not as if the species were split between areas that were more reliant on attracting a mate through sound rather than vision. They think, instead, that it has to do with difficulty in evolving mate-attracting traits. “Alternatively,” says New Scientist, “once one attractive trait has begun to emerge, it may simply be pointless to develop a second.”

Ah, to be a man!

Male Birds Can Either Be Hot or Talented — Not Both