Avian 'Axe effect' attracts attention of females and males

July 19th, 2011 in Biology / Plants & Animals

In a case of life imitating art, avian scents given off by male songbirds have the females (and males) flocking in.

A Michigan State University researcher revealed the process of how males draw attention to themselves through chemical communication in the current issue of Behavioral Ecology. Scents are used in all organisms for many purposes, such as finding, attracting and evaluating mates. But this is the first study of its kind that demonstrates that it is happening among songbirds, said Danielle Whittaker, managing director of MSU’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

Body-spray commercials feature young men dousing themselves with fragrance and – voila – hordes of beautiful women or even bands of angels descend upon them. Male birds deploy a similar tactic when they release their cologne – or preen oil – secreted from a gland at the base of their tail. It not only works to attract the attention of female birds, but it also has the unintended effect of attracting males as well.

“It’s kind of like the ‘Axe effect,’ in that females were attracted to the scent and didn’t seem to care where it came from, meaning their own population or a different one – even though birds in these populations look and behave differently,” Whittaker said. “And I think the males were drawn in as an aggressive response to the scent of another male.”

Traditionally, songbirds have been written off in terms of using their sense of smell because they have the smallest olfactory bulbs relative to brain size among all birds. Recently, however, researchers have discovered that songbirds harbor a high number of olfactory receptors, and they’ve been able to prove that the birds are capable of using odors to help find their way.

So, Whittaker and her collaborators in Ellen Ketterson’s lab at Indiana University weren’t surprised to discover that the birds used scent in attracting mates. Some eyebrows were raised, though, when they learned how attractive the scent was across populations and sexes. Another interesting find was that when given a choice, the female birds preferred the odor of the smaller males, Whittaker said.

“However, in a previous study, when they got to see the actual birds, they tended to prefer larger males with larger plumage ornaments,” she said. “Based on these results, I’m hoping to find out how and why small, unattractive males overcompensate by producing greater amounts of an attractive scent.”

Provided by Michigan State University

“Avian ‘Axe effect’ attracts attention of females and males.” July 19th, 2011.

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About James V. Kohl 1307 Articles
James Vaughn Kohl was the first to accurately conceptualize human pheromones, and began presenting his findings to the scientific community in 1992. He continues to present to, and publish for, diverse scientific and lay audiences, while constantly monitoring the scientific presses for new information that is relevant to the development of his initial and ongoing conceptualization of human pheromones. Recently, Kohl integrated scientific evidence that pinpoints the evolved neurophysiological mechanism that links olfactory/pheromonal input to genes in hormone-secreting cells of tissue in a specific area of the brain that is primarily involved in the sensory integration of olfactory and visual input, and in the development of human sexual preferences. His award-winning 2007 article/book chapter on multisensory integration: The Mind’s Eyes: Human pheromones, neuroscience, and male sexual preferences followed an award winning 2001 publication: Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinology and ethology, which was coauthored by disinguished researchers from Vienna. Rarely do researchers win awards in multiple disciplines, but Kohl’s 2001 award was for neuroscience, and his 2007 “Reiss Theory” award was for social science. Kohl has worked as a medical laboratory scientist since 1974, and he has devoted more than twenty-five years to researching the relationship between the sense of smell and the development of human sexual preferences. Unlike many researchers who work with non-human subjects, medical laboratory scientists use the latest technology from many scientific disciplines to perform a variety of specialized diagnostic medical testing on people. James V. Kohl is certified with: * American Society for Clinical Pathology * American Medical Technologists James V. Kohl is a member of: * Society for Neuroscience * Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology * Association for Chemoreception Sciences * Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality * International Society for Human Ethology * American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science * Mensa, the international high IQ society