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Peacock love songs lure eavesdropping females from afar
Date:12/20/2012

Durham, NC Deep in the scrublands of Keoladeo National Park in northwest India, one thing was hard for biologist Jessica Yorzinski to ignore: It wasn't the heat. It wasn't the jackals. It was the squawks of peacocks in the throes of passion.

From behind the trees in the distance, she could hear a loud two-part whoop, the distinctive call that male peacocks make right before mating.

During the peacock courtship dance, a male announces that he's ready to make his move by dashing towards the object of his affection and emitting a singular squawk before mounting his mate.

"Peacocks have a number of different courtship calls, but this is the only one specifically associated with the moment before copulation, a time when the female is finally right in front of the male. It's called the hoot-dash display," said Duke University researcher Jessica Yorzinski.

The amorous peacock's signature hoot poses a puzzle for scientists.

For one, he's already got the girl.

"By that point she's already right there, checking him out. You'd think that he might not need another signal at such a late stage in the courtship process," Yorzinski said.

What's more, the calls could alert potential predators that an easy meal is near. Wild peacocks make quick snacks for jackals, tigers and hawks in their native habitat in South Asia.

"In a sense, they're advertizing that they're distracted and vulnerable. It would be wise for a predator to capitalize on that," Yorzinski said.

Intrigued, Yorzinski recorded the loud carrying-on of males in mid-conquest. Then she played the calls to free-ranging females in India and videotaped their reactions.

At each site, a loudspeaker played copulation calls on one day and silent controls on another day.

The result: the recorded love sounds made by amorous peacocks in the throes of passion drew eavesdropping females from afar. Females approached and spent
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Contact: Robin Ann Smith
ras10@duke.edu
919-668-4544
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
Source:Eurekalert  

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