Personality trumps looks when female bird goes looking for a hookup

For an adventurous female zebra finch a similar personality is more important than a male’s appearance or the condition of their beak, reveals research led by the University of Exeter and published in Ethology. This is the first study to show that personalities influence partner choice in non-humans.

The study focused on a population of more than 150 zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, as the research team used a series of behavioural tests to assess male and female birds for personality traits.

In one series of tests the team measured levels of adventurous behaviour by assessing a bird’s willingness to explore new environments and reactions to new objects. Each female watched as a pair of brothers explored strange new cages.

Unbeknown to the female one of the brothers was made to look less exploratory than the other as it was restrained within an invisible box. The team then put the female together with the brothers and observed which male she spent the most time with.

The results showed that exploratory females are more likely to favour the most apparently outgoing and confident males. This was regardless of the male birds body size, condition or beak colour. Less exploratory females on the other hand, did not show a preference for either male.

“This is strong evidence that females care about the apparent personality of their male independently of his appearance,” said team leader, Dr Sasha Dall, from the University of Exeter. “We have the first evidence that it is important for partners to have compatible personalities in the mating game. This is something we would probably all agree is the case for humans, but it has been overlooked for other species.”

Previous studies have shown that there is a link between a pair’s personalities and their reproductive success across a range of species.

“Exploratory females seem to have the most to gain by choosing exploratory mates,” said lead author, Dr Wiebke Schuett of the Royal Veterinary College. “We have shown previously that pairs of zebra finches that are both exploratory raise offspring in better condition than those that are mismatched or unexploratory. Similar patterns have been seen in other birds and fish. However, this is the first evidence that the personality of both partners plays a role in mate choice.”

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