Male birds are often the ones with the most vibrant feathers, or the most elaborate songs, but researchers said Thursday that what female birds could really appreciate is a male who shows his intelligence. The report in the journal Science aligns with one of Charles Darwin’s old theories, which held that mate choice could contribute to the evolution of intelligence. “Our study demonstrates that direct observation of cognitive skills can affect mate preference,” said the study, authored by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and at Leiden University in The Netherlands. Researchers used 34 small Australian parrots, known as budgerigars, to test the notion that a suitor’s smarts could outweigh style or songs. A female bird was exposed to two similar looking males, in a cage in which she could only interact with one at a time. Prior study designs like this have shown that females tend to lean toward males with slightly nicer appearances, or more appealing songs. Researchers could tell which male was preferred by the amount of time the female spent interacting with him. Then, they swept away the lesser male to engage him in a special training session in opening a container filled with seeds. The female — and her preferred male — received no such training, and were given open boxes of seed to eat from freely. Next, the female was placed in a cage with a sealed box of seed, and was allowed to watch the trained male cleverly open his sealed box of seed. She also watched the untrained male — whom she preferred at first glance — being unable to open his container. After that, eight of the nine females changed their minds, apparently, and began spending more time in the cage interacting with the more capable box-opening male than they had before the experiment. Published in Daily Times, January 14th 2019.