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Behav Processes. 2010 Jul;84(3):739-44. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.05.003. Epub 2010 May 20.

Plumage maintenance affects ultraviolet colour and female preference in the budgerigar.

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Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, Savoyenstrasse 1/A, Vienna, Austria.


Elaborate or colourful feathers are important traits in female-mate choice in birds but little attention has been given to the potential costs of maintaining these traits in good condition via preening behaviour. While preening is known to be an important component of plumage maintenance, it has received little attention with respect to colouration. We investigated whether preening can influence plumage reflectance and whether females show a preference for plumage cleanliness in captive-bred, wild-type budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus. To do this, we compared the spectral colour of birds that were allowed to preen their plumage and individuals that were prevented from preening. The plumage of birds that were prevented from preening showed a significant lower reflectance in the UV range (300-400nm). Subsequently, we measured females' preferences for preened and unpreened males using a two-choice test. In a second experiment we allowed females to choose between an unpreened male and a male smeared with UV-absorbing chemicals (UV-blocked male). The proportion of time that females stayed near preened males was statistically higher than for unpreened males, but females spent similar amounts of time with unpreened males and UV-blocked males. These results are consistent with the idea that female budgerigars are able to discriminate between preened and unpreened males, and that UV colours, mediated by preening, can convey information about a bird's current condition.

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