Melbourne, September 23 : A study on roosters, conducted by researchers at Macquarie University in Australia, suggests that a male's actions in the face of danger may be the best indicator of his mating and reproductive success.
Study leader David Wilson, a doctoral student at the Centre for the Integrative Study of Animal Behaviour, says that roosters' ability to protect the brood is key to their sexual success.
Reporting his finding in the journal Animal Behaviour, the researchers says that the new finding runs counter to "20 years of research" that suggests that looks "matters and nothing else".
During the study, Wilson observed that given time and a bit of male-male interaction, hens discriminated along different lines, and males with the biggest combs in fact had the least reproductive success.
For his experiment, he and his colleagues observed the behaviour of 22 social groups of three male and three female golden Sebright chickens over two weeks following a week-long "settling in" period.
"These birds live in stable social groups so typically when they choose a mate they do have information gained over a period of time," ABC Science quoted Wilson as saying.
The team observed that roosters that put themselves in danger's way by most often alerting the brood to a predator would get the most girls, and father more chicks.
Wilson points out that chickens use different vocal calls to indicate the presence of food, an aerial predator and a terrestrial predator.
According to him, they respond to the calls in appropriate ways either by searching for food, crouching while looking upward to detect a hawk, or standing tall and scanning the horizon for a fox.
Based on his observations, he came to the conclusion that the frequency of alarm calls was a good predictor of mating success, with the dominant rooster producing four to five times more alarm calls.
"The risk associated with alarm calling may advertise the male's ability to shun predators since only individuals best able to evade attack should be able to increase their conspicuousness with impunity," he said.
"It's like Evel Knievel and his stunts. He was willing to risk this daring behaviour for the attention ... it advertised his underlying qualities," he added.
Wilson is of the view that his team's findings may be helpful in understanding why animals produce anti-predator alarm calls.