London, May 21 : Just as men often try to hone their skills as poets to win a chance with women, male songbirds also seem to adopt similar strategies to attract females.
Researchers at the University of Lethridge in Alberta, Canada, have found in a study that the best singers woo females by singing popular tunes better than everyone else, while lousy singers have to get original.
"If a bird is a really crummy singer, he shouldn't even bother trying the same song type everyone is singing, because he will get matched and shown as a loser," New Scientist quoted David Logue, an ornithologist who led the study, as saying.
The study showed that male songbirds rarely stuck to one tune, and that repertoires could vary widely between birds of the same species.
Logue revealed that males would often go head-to-head in a sing-off until one bird relented and changed his tune.
He and his colleagues believe that the sing-offs are aimed at wooing females by showing their superiority.
They say that the best singers copy their rivals' tunes and master them, to allow females to easily compare between potential mates.
"We don't have much in the way of data yet," Logue says.
He says that if this hypothesis be considered true, such a mechanism may foster creativity and the enormous diversity of bird songs.
"There can be a balance, and in some species and in some populations poets and jocks can both excel," Logue said.
Sandra Vehrencamp, an ornithologist at Cornell University in New York who first proposed that sing-offs are a form of aggression, Logue's hypothesis as a "really interesting idea".
She, however, insisted that the new model might not apply to all songbirds.
A research article describing Lougue's idea has been published in the journal American Naturalist.