Fancy Males–Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know

Why do some of the males of bird species take on these fanciful colors and plumage?

Posted March 21, 2020

We humans have it backward.  The females of our species get gussied up to impress the males of our species. We spend time and money to do our hair, our nails, and have the right color-coordinated clothes.  But instead, we should do as they do in bird species–let the male attend to all that, so they can become fancy males!

Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy “Fancy Males.”

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has produced a fine series of educational and interactive learning tools in their Bird Academy, continuing a century-old tradition of sharing the wonder and joy of birds.  I sat down this week and enjoyed Fancy Males.

Since everyone is practicing social distancing, many have extra time on their hands at home, so there’s no better time to check out this edition of Bird Academy.  With only 7 short sessions, within a brief 30 minutes, you will have added to your knowledge of why some male birds are “fancy” while other male birds are not.  The sessions are so much fun to follow, that you won’t even realize how much you are learning at the same time.

So, let’s dig into Fancy Males.

Session One:  Fancy Males

You’ll be tested right from the get-go.  In Session One you’ll need to pick the male between birds of a species.  After the first one or two, you’ll quickly get the hang of it, and Bird Academy will even give you a final grade at the end of the session.

Session Two:  Ways to be Fancy

Most people know about the bright colors and extra plumage that a male bird will use to attract his next mate. But what many do not know is that courtship behavior can also include song, dance, and even architectural surprises.  The uncut videos in Session Two will surprise you with the intriguing game of attracting a mate!

Session Three:  How Fanciness Evolves

We’ve all been taught about Darwin’s theory of natural selection, commonly known as the survival of the fittest.  But perhaps sexual selection also comes into play, with the survival of the sexiest? Learn how these two types of natural selection work together in the world of birds.

Session Four:  Fancy Males and Choosy Females

Learn how economics (the expenditure of energy) can create a situation where males can be fancy and females should be choosy.  Females usually have a much higher investment in the future generation, and this starts with the production of the eggs, which can use up a good supply of energy.  Males?  Well, they donate the sperm.  Although to give them full credit, some do hang around to help with the kids! 

Session Five:  On a Sage-Grouse Lek

Pop the popcorn and pull up a front-row seat as you watch the happenings of a Sage-Grouse lek in video.  Your eyebrows will probably raise once or twice, as you monitor the fanciness of the males and the choosiness of the females.

Session Seven:  A Fancy Experiment

Take part in an interactive experiment to really understand the concept of sexual selection and how it can shape future generations.

Bird Academy has some wonderful courses which will keep birders occupied during social distancing.  Be sure to check out their other courses.

(Source:  Bird Academy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

About the author

Susan Davis has been living on Bonaire for over 25 years. She is a certified bird guide, a PADI SCUBA Diving Master Instructor,  and an underwater and topside photographer.

Susan Davis, the author.

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