OUT­RA­GEOUS COLOUR

Bird Watching (UK) - - Species Pheasant -

A lot of Pheas­ants’ male on male ‘fight­ing’ is based on ap­pear­ance rather than vi­o­lence. But, if nec­es­sary, the long spurs will be used in anger The black points within the red wat­tle are im­por­tant in at­tract­ing fe­males, as is the length of the ear tufts. But nei­ther are as im­por­tant as spur length Bizarrely, all that feath­ered op­u­lence seems to be cheap cur­rency, even in the Pheas­ant’s world. One might think that, with the shim­mer­ing, bur­nished gold and bronze back­ground to com­plex bars, speck­les, spots and chevrons, the fab­u­lous body plumage would bring ev­ery fe­male Pheas­ant to its knees. Yet it seems that it doesn’t – or at least, its mag­nif­i­cence is taken for granted and makes no dif­fer­ence to a male’s prospects. Sci­en­tists have tested what does curry favour, and it isn’t shim­mer­ing colours. The length of the tail does mat­ter, and so do the black points within the colour­ful red wat­tle on the face. The length of the ear tufts ap­peals to fe­males, and can be im­por­tant when males face up to each other dur­ing ter­ri­to­rial chal­lenges. How­ever, the bot­tom line for Pheas­ants is some­thing you might not even no­tice. Hid­den away amidst all the con­spic­u­ous add-ons, the sin­gle most im­por­tant char­ac­ter­is­tic for any male Pheas­ant is the length of its spurs, the claws on its feet. Long claws are the truest mea­sure­ment of a male’s qual­ity. Long-spurred males sire more hatch­lings than shorter-spurred birds and, no­tably, those hatch­lings have a sig­nif­i­cantly en­hanced sur­vival rate through­out later life. Not sur­pris­ingly, males with long spurs have higher rates of suc­cess in ac­quir­ing mates. So it re­ally seems that all the ‘plas­tic’ is not es­pe­cially im­por­tant to the birds them­selves. They hardly seem to need it.

BATTLE

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