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Home » Santa Clarita News » Environment » SCV Outdoor Report » SCV Outdoor Report: Choosy Females Choose Red

SCV Outdoor Report: Choosy Females Choose Red


I learned early in our marriage to be very careful when clothes shopping for my husband.  I think he looks good in red shirts.  But he won’t wear anything resembling pink; even red and white checks are too “pinkish” for him.  For a long time, I just considered it one of his endearing quirks – everyone has at least a few of them.  But now I know better – it’s evolutionary avian biology at work!

Look at these pictures of a male and female house finch and note the difference in coloration.

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Female House Finch

wendy2009_malehousefinch.jpg
Male House Finch.  Photo by Lilian Darling Holt.

In male birds, red carotenoid pigments are a sign of health and vitality.

Here’s why:  if you are a male bird, red will make you more visible to predators.  To survive long enough to mate, you have to have good eyesight, fast reflexes and the strength and agility to make good your escape.  Also, carotenoids are antioxidants and will protect sperm against oxidative damage; this increases your ability to father healthy offspring.  In addition, if you have enough excess metabolic energy to synthesize red pigments, you have proven yourself a good forager (and you will make a good provider for your offspring). 

Most scientists assumed that the red coloration is an “honest and accurate” sign of the underlying physiological well-being of the bird.  But recent studies on barn swallows have shown a reverse effect:  artificially painting a bird red has an internal physiological effect:  “Our results indicate that a perceived change in the color of an animal can directly affect its internal physiological state. A barn swallow’s hormonal profile is influenced by its outward appearance.” 

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Barn Swallows.  Photo by Lilian Darling Holt.

In other words, the more red paint, the more testosterone is produced:  “male barn swallows that were ‘made over’ with darker breast colors bred earlier in the season and fathered more young”.

Hmmm… perhaps I ought to go clothes shopping this weekend for my husband.  Anyone know where I can finds some red shirts?


Upcoming Outdoor Events: 

Saturday, April 25, and every Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon.

Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie and a heart-thumping workout.  For more information contact Steve Ioerger at 661-291-1565.

Saturday, May 9, 9:00-11:00 AM.  Wildflower Hike in East/Rice Canyon.  Just in time for Mother’s Day.  Spend a couple of hours with her while searching out the Spring wildflowers.

For map and directions go here.

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

Saturday, May 16, 8:00-10:00 AM.  Morning Bird Hike in Towsley Canyon.  Towsley Canyon is a year-round home for birds.  They like our Mediterranean climate, the local bounty and the California sunshine.  Bring your binoculars and meet at the entrance.  For map and directions go here.

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The Hike Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, click here or go to www.LAMountains.com.

SCV Outdoor Report: Choosy Females Choose Red

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