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Is Preening Behaviour Sexually Selected? An Experimental Approach


Matteo Griggio, Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Padova, Via U. Bassi 58/B, I-35131 Padova, Italy.


Elaborate or colourful feathers are important traits in female mate choice in birds but little attention has been given to potential costs of maintaining these traits in good condition with preening behaviour. Recent studies indicate that the time and energy required to maintain ornamental plumage in good condition reinforces the honesty of plumage trait. It has been proposed that some behaviours, whose primary function is not to transfer information, can also evolve as signalling components. Here we investigate whether the preening behaviour intensity has a signalling component: we hypothesized that if only high quality males can invest a lot of time in preening, this behaviour may be used by females as a quality signal (attractive preening hypothesis). We tested this hypothesis by using female budgerigars in mate-choice tests in captivity. We tried to experimentally manipulate the preening behaviour of two groups of budgerigar males (treatment and control group). The proportion of time in which treated males preened in front of females was statistically higher than for control males, however, females spent similar amounts of time with treated males and control males. Moreover, males did not show significant quantitative changes in preening (for both groups) when females were present, suggesting that male budgerigars did not use this behaviour to convey information. These results are inconsistent with the ‘attractive preening’ hypothesis which predicts that preening behaviour itself provides information on condition and is used in female choice.