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Notes About Bird Flamboyance And Behavior

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This article was once the Epilogue, Afterword, and Postscript of an earlier article (Why You Haven’t Seen Any Painted Buntings). In that epilogue, I made a frivolous comment (the one in quotes in the next paragraph) that completely changed the direction of the discussion (in an interesting way). I’ve since decided that a separate discussion should be in a separate article. So here we are.

It is clear from Why You Haven’t Seen Any Painted Buntings that the Painted Bunting’s behavior is affected by its physical characteristics. There are risks associated with flamboyance. “Somewhere along their evolutionary path, male Painted Buntings had to choose between bright colors for better sex or more obscure colors for longer life. Speaking for males everywhere, that was a no-brainer.”

Flamboyance And Parenting

After giving that last statement some more thought, I grew concerned that I may be warping, or at least oversimplifying science (possibly by anthropomorphismdefined, among other things). So I invited my editor, trained biologist, and author,Book 1, Book 2 April Kirkendoll, to keep me honest. Here are some of her comments:

As your blog is fairly informal, a few anthropomorphisms are allowed.

As to actual biology, in bird species where a one-night stand and hitting on multiple females is the preferred method of child-making, flamboyance is the rule. “Sex is more important than long life for playboys” might be the male perspective, while “Guys are only good for one thing, so who needs a lot of ’em around?” could be the female perspective.

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clearly more cases of anthropomorphism

One sprightly alert male can pass on plenty of wily genes, and if he’s still alive to court you, he’s a good candidate for fatherhood. As a bonus, if the hawk is attracted to the brightly colored male, it may not notice the female, so she can go about her child-rearing in peace. Or the predator could just be full by the time it notices the female.

In bird species where child-rearing is a shared business, males and females are similarly colored. Single momhood must be more difficult (or those females simply refuse to have sex without commitment, probably because single momhood is so hard). Males can’t just doink and run; they have to stick around and provide housing, protection, and/or food. They have to live longer in order for the species to continue.

Monogamy among birds ranges from 70-90%, depending on what you read and how you determine monogamy and pairing.

Sexual dichromatism varies according to the amount of work the male puts into child-rearing.

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Sexual dichromatism is a form of sexual dimorphism. Most sources, like Wikipedia redirect to the more general term, where you can find your definition at the bottom of the page. Click here for the short answer.


Basically, the more the color differences between genders, the less child-rearing the mate does. Females aren’t always the drab ones.

Females Aren’t Always Drab?

For even more information on April’s last point, I contacted Brian Rapoza. He’s a world-renowned birder, authorbook, teacher, and field trip coordinator for Tropical Audubon Societywebsite.

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Again, although I can personally recommend the books of both of these people, they are our friends, and we receive nothing for these endorsements, either directly or indirectly. Brian used three of Nancy’s photographs in his book, so if you bring your copy of his book to our booth and show us one of those pictures, I will give you five dollars ($5) off of any purchase. If you show us your copy of one of April’s books, we will give you four dollars ($4) off, even if you can’t find one of Nancy’s pictures.

We have improved his offer. See blog post Nancy’s Photos Are In Book About Bees.



As an example of birds of which the female was NOT the drab one, Brian pointed to birds in the genus Phalaropus. The Red-necked Phalarope, the Red Phalarope, and less commonly the Wilson’s Phalarope all migrate past Florida in the Atlantic Ocean to nest in the Arctic. Although not nearly as flashy as the Painted Bunting, the female of these species is more colorful than the male. And consistent with April’s comments, it is the male who incubates the eggs and cares for the young.

Wait, There’s More!

For even more species where the female is more flamboyant, see Sabrina Imbler’s article for the Audubon Society, Pretty Little Fliers. While I’ve touted the female Painted Buntingblog, I find its inclusion in this list, as well as the inclusion of a couple of other birds, a stretch. Sabrina’s article is still very good and will expand your understanding of the topic.

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