In the throes of passion, male peacocks let out a distinctive squawk and whoop before mounting their mate. Called a “hoot-dash” display, scientists puzzle over the purpose of this bellow. The guy’s already got the girl, and it seems like predators could use the male’s loud announcement as a way to seek out tasty birds in compromised positions.
Intrigued, a group of ornithologists recorded the male’s conquest calls, then played those calls to free females. The love sounds, they found, drew voyeuristic, eavesdropping females from afar. The ruffled ladies approached the speakers and spent more time there than when listening to control tapes that played unsexy hoots. These results held true for both captive and wild females.
So, not satisfied with just getting one girl, the researchers reasoned, it seems that males likely broadcast their vitality far and wide in the hopes of attracting more willing ladies. The chance to sow wild oats must make up for the risk involved in disclosing his and his partner’s whereabouts.
So why don’t the males just squawk all over the place, female at hand or not, in order to attract ladies willy-nilly? ”One of the biggest unanswered questions is why males don’t fake it,” the researchers commented. “I’ve heard males making false calls when there’s no mate in sight, so there definitely is some level of cheating going on. Figuring out why they don’t do it more often would be the key.”
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