Why Flashy Male Birds Aren't Really What They Seem

Among peacocks, swans, pheasants, and other birds, males’ better looks don’t necessarily mean better genes.

As might be true in any big family, the Galloanserae clan has some gorgeous and some plain-looking members, some promiscuous and some monogamous ones.

The avian superorder includes common pheasants, peacocks, and swans among the 452 species of game and waterfowl.

But the most colorful and randy Galloanserae males may not be passing on the best genes to offspring, according to a recent study. (Read "Feathers of Seduction" in National Geographic magazine.)

“There have been lots of theories that the ornaments, the beautiful colors and big tails, are sported by the most fit males,” says evolutionary biologist Judith Mank of University College London. “We were explicitly testing that theory” in the study, published earlier this year in the Proceedings of

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