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Sexual Preferences of Female Zebra Finches: Imprinting On Beak Colour

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Sexual preferences of adult zebra finches are influenced by early learning of parental characteristics. We studied how imprinting affects the preference of female zebra finches for male beak colour. The beaks of male and female parents were painted, 2-3 days before hatch and thereafter until the young were fledged, as follows: male red, female orange (R-O group); male orange, female red (O-R group); both male and female red (R-R group); or both male and female orange (O-O group). Females were raised by painted parents until 35 days, then visually isolated from other birds until test at 100 days. In 4-way choice tests using red- and orange-painted stimulus males, females from Groups O-R and R-O chose males with beaks painted the same colour as their father's beak, whereas females from Groups R-R and O-O did not. We conclude that preference for male beak colour was acquired only by females reared by parents with unlike, discriminative, beak colours. The results suggest an associative learning basis for sexual imprinting.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada; 2: Department of Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada

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