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Problem-solving budgies – Do they make more attractive mates?

Spreads for web Parrots 278 4

By Devorah Bennu, PhD aka “GrrlScientist”

Direct observation of problem-solving skills in male budgerigars increases their attractiveness to females and this mate preference may contribute to the evolution of enhanced cognitive abilities underlying such skills.

Recently, I shared a study that uncovered hundreds of genes, many new to scientists, that appear to be involved in ageing and cognition in parrots. Although that research did not address how enhanced cognitive abilities actually evolved in parrots, most scientists think that females may be the driving force behind enhanced intelligence, as well as a variety of other traits. Basically, mate choice may push the evolution of cognitive skills by females preferentially choosing partners that are more ‘clever’.

An elegant study was published in Science ( by an international collaboration of scientists from China and the Netherlands demonstrating that female budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulates) that chose a particular male, will change their minds after observing their less-preferred male successfully solving a foraging puzzle toy. This study also found that these females’ preferences were not affected by food in control experiments where they were allowed to observe males with free access to food, nor were they affected by social preferences after observing ‘demonstrator’ females that successfully solved the same foraging puzzle toy. This thought-provoking study suggests that direct observation of problem-solving skills increases male attractiveness and may contribute to the evolution of the cognitive abilities underlying such skills.

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