Discover Magazine: Arranged Bird Marriages Are Less Successful Than True Love


Love Connection

Zebra finches have a lot in common with human couples: They are monogamous, and males and females share the responsibilities of raising their offspring. With so much on the line, female zebra finches are incredibly choosy when it comes to finding their partner. Unlike other animal species where, say, the biggest horns or flashiest feathers get the girl, there’s no clear consensus on which male zebra finches represent the Brad Pitts of the aviary, as each individual female has her own checklist. So is there a biological advantage to being picky, rather than just mating with a male with good genes?

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany decided to test this question using a population of 160 zebra finches. Birds were placed into groups of 20 males and 20 females, allowing the birds to voluntarily pair up. Once the birds were paired, half of the pairs “lived happily ever after” and were placed together. The other half of the pairs were split up and reassigned a mate in a forced pairing. Each male in a forced pair had previously been chosen by a different female, which ensured that scientists weren’t pairing a female with a “reject” that no onewanted.


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