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Surprising Science

Females Who Choose Their Mates Care More About Their Offspring — In Bird Populations, Anyway

The lady birds in the “arranged marriage” group were less interested in hooking up with their partners, and were more likely to abandon their eggs.

Dating is a wonderfully terrible pastime, filled with boredom, rejection, and cycles of hope and heartbreak. In order to better understand the mystery behind human dating and mate selection, scientists looked to the birds (curiously, not the bees).

Researchers Malika Ihle, Bart Kempenaers, and Wolfgang Forstmeier published in the Public Library of Science, Cambridge, a study in which zebra finches were split into two groups: ones that were allowed to choose their mates, and ones that had their mates chosen for them. In the group that chose their mates, the offspring had a much higher survival rate than those in the other group. The lady birds in the “arranged marriage” group were less interested in hooking up with their partners, and were more likely to abandon their eggs. The takeaway is that when we get to choose our mate, we are more likely to continue our species. It matters less whether we’re genetically compatible and matters more whether we, well, like you.

On the other hand, having too many dating choices can make us shallow.

Everyone has a friend whose partner we look at quizzically — why him? As comedian Liza Treyger pointed out, “Your arms are different lengths; why are you talking to her?” But love is strange, and women’s tastes vary greatly. Apparently, so does the taste of female zebra finches, who showed no consistency in what defined a “hot” male finch. Both human and avian females, it would appear, are more concerned with the personality than empirical hotness. Of course, humans have their own bag of rocks they bring to relationships. Fiches don’t have to worry about attachment theory, for example.

Still, it’s an interesting find that our friends in the avian family share some of our mating/dating habits. I can only imagine the zebra finches gathered around the bird equivalent of brunch, eating worms and drinking mimosas, chatting about how much dating sucks in 2015. Maybe there’s even a bird dating app called Flock, where they can swipe in search of the perfect mate. In any event, love will always retain its air of mystery, and even as studies come out in an effort to better understand our choices, at the end of the day we’ll still probably be saying, “I don’t know what she sees in him.”

Lori Chandler is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, NY, which is the most unoriginal sentence she has ever written. You can look at her silly drawings on Tumblr, Rad Drawings, or read her silly tweets @LilBoodleChild. Enough about her, she says: how are you?



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