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The Green Life: For the Birds: The "Scary Movie Effect"

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January 19, 2011

For the Birds: The "Scary Movie Effect"

The scary movie effect It's a technique that's been employed by love-struck youths since the dawn of cinema: Bring your date to a horror movie and she'll (or he'll) be clasping your hand in no time. People, it seems, aren't the only ones to make the connection between fear and attraction. Scientists have discovered that an Australian bird species pairs their songs with predators' calls to flirt with potential mates in an avian example of the "scary movie effect."

Researchers from the University of Chicago discovered that male splendid fairy-wrens use "vocal hitchhiking" to attract female attention by singing a special song when they hear predator calls. For the small, sexually promiscuous birds, it's a formula that gets results. According to a recent study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, female fairy-wrens were most attentive to the male fairy-wrens' courtship calls when they were preceded by the call of their predator, the butcherbird. "It sounds like a duet," says study author Stephen Pruett-Jones.

Taken with other recent examples of intriguing avian abilities (crows, for example, can remember human faces) we're beginning to suspect that the birds are even more clever than we thought. Pass the popcorn.

--Della Watson


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