Ladies, listen up. A large study of zebra finches, made possible by "bio-logging," has shown that male mates are not chosen for their ornamental (red) leg bands, but for their compatibility!

Nature shows us once again that handsome is as handsome does.


Female zebra finch regards brightly-banded male

"You are pretty, but will you be my soul mate? Will you promise to love and honor me for life and nurture our chicks?" (image)


For more than 35 years, ornithologists have conducted studies on the mating behaviors of monogamous birds and the preponderance of evidence led them to conclude that male partners are chosen by females based on physical attributes, such as red leg bands in the zebra finch (image above). But, thanks to bio-logging, a new study found that this phenomenon, at least in zebra finches, is not occurring, but instead, the female zebra finch looks for compatibility in her mate. Makes sense, the zebra finch, like many other bird species mate for life!


What is Bio-Logging?

Bio-logging is the way scientists now learn about wildlife on land, at sea, and in flight. Bio-loggers are devices that can be non-intrusively placed on or even inside an organism to obtain data on its physiology, its surroundings, its interaction with like organisms and others, how it is nourished, what threatens it, how it socializes...  Bio-loggers are like miniature computers that can be programmed to collect virtually an kind of data about living organisms.  Some can provide live data; others may collect and store data until it is retrieved - maybe up to two years later.


Bio-logger example

Bio-loggers can be much smaller than the one above, size depends on the size of the subject, the objectives of the study, and how unobtrusive it has to be. (image)


A bio-logger can be any size or shape depending on what its purpose is and how unobtrusive it needs to be. There is a strong credo among bio-logger scientists that no wildlife be injured in any way by their research techniques.


Bio-Logging Will Challenge Our Current "Knowledge"

Bio-logging is one of the most exciting technologies of this century so-far, especially when it comes to wildlife and the possibilities of protecting it.  I use the example of Dr. Wolfgang Forstmeier's recent study on zebra finches to illustrate.

Ornithologists, "knew" how certain bird species chose their mates. In fact, there were 39 published studies on the mating of the zebra finch alone, 23 of which indicated the red band was the selection factor. But, as Dr. Forstmeier points out, “A closer look at the statistics of the previously published studies revealed that positive results were only reported when sample sizes were small, suggesting that the results may be artefacts.”

Bio-logging made Forstmeier's new result possible, because the tiny computers, "loggers," were able to capture so much of the birds' activity and interaction - 720 finches in four different geographical locations!  Now, scientists are bio-logging the actions of insects, birds, marine life, and mammals. How much more we will learn!


Fish with sensors

Maritime Biologgers create bio-logs for marine scientists


For beginners, there are several sources about bio-logging you can find online. I recommend these, for starters:

Science Daily

World Wildlife Federation Conservation Technology

Max-Planck-Gesellshaft website


Don't worry if you don't have a science degree, there are organizations like the World Wildlife Federation that welcome dedicated novices to contribute their projects.