An Alright/All Right Approach

Flipping through the pages of November's issue of Science News, I was greeted by the most handsome familiar faces. The boisterous characters were flecked with explosive colors, almost grinning at the camera. I couldn't have been happier when I recognized some of my favorite feathered friends: Lady Gouldian finches.

There are limitless reasons that one should not anthropomorphize, but I had to shed my rationalities with these guys. One day, as I peered into their aviary, I watched a little red-capped fellow perch by other sleeping finches and then suddenly shake the branch like a mad man. The other finches would shout and fly off, and the little red-capped fellow would simply sit there for a minute, basking in the after-glow of his prank, before perching on another branch to scare yet another finch.

I watched him do this at least three times. I thought I'd never stop laughing. In less than five minutes, I had fallen for this little bird and this magnificent flock.

Who would have known that they would be subject to not one but two evolutionary marvels?

Michele once told me that the coloration of the finches' heads are genetic identifications, and that the most reproductively-successful finches choose their mates depending on their coloring. This was also the subject of a blog post a few years ago. Recent studies, however, have added one more piece of trivia to the puzzle.

When scientists cover up the right eye on male finches, his courting becomes uncharacteristically sloppy.

In other words, an eye-patch on the right eye removes the male's ability to differentiate suitable and unsuitable partners. In fact, some eye-patch wearing males were so unable to choose, they just hopped about randomly. If they did happen to choose a mate, red-capped females and black-capped females were just as likely to be chosen despite the terrible odds the offspring of differently colored parents typically face.

Even more bewildering, if one were to block the left visual field rather than the right, the male finch returned to courting same cap-color females. It seems that male Gouldian finches have developed an alright/all-right courting mechanism!

By Iva Petrovchich

Science News