The Early Bird Gets the Worm — And a Little Something Else

posted: 06/12/15
by: Danny Clemens
Great tit
rj: photography via Flickr

Songbirds have a compelling reason to get out of bed early: mating.

In a new study from North Dakota State University, researchers pumped up levels of melatonin (the hormone that regulates your body clock) in male songbirds. The dazed songbirds slept in later than their peers, whose body clocks were still ticking away normally.

That sleep came at a cost: paternity tests revealed that males who slept in were found to eventually be taking care of nestlings fathered by other males, who rose earlier.

That's right -- lady songbirds left the nest for some early-morning lovin' as their men slept in.

"This study suggests that being active during this pre-dawn period may be important for not only gaining reproductive success through extra-pair mating attempts, but may also be important for copulating with your mate. If you are not around when she becomes active, she may seek opportunities from neighboring males," said study lead author Timothy Greives.

Researchers acknowledge that the body clock isn't perfect: going forward, Greives hopes to further investigate the implications of natural variations in melatonin levels on reproductive success.

Click here to read Greives' study in the journal Functional Ecology

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