Toxic waste gets birds laid

Male starlings that eat polluted worms suffused with estrogen-mimicking toxic waste develop beautiful songs that turn them into super-studs, attracting more females than their non-toxic brethren. The bird-ladies love a toxic dude:
Male starlings with the highest levels of endocrine disruptors in their bodies also possessed unusually developed high vocal centers, an area of the brain associated with songbirds' songs. Scientists have previously shown that estrogen drives HVC development; its mimics apparently have the same effect.

Accordingly, the polluted male starlings sang songs of exceptional length and complexity -- a birdsign of reproductive fitness. Female starlings preferred their songs to those of unexposed males, suggesting that the polluted birds could have a reproductive advantage, eventually spreading their genes through starling populations.

These are the same chemicals that turn fish into hermaphrodites, btw. Link (via Kottke


  1. Damn, It’s always the bad boys. I could hang around in sludge too, I choose not to.

  2. I wonder if this chemical atttraction has more levels than we know. Might explain why some people are inexplicably attracted to terrible fake tans.

  3. I’m curious to know how successful the polluted birds are at actually impregnating the females, and how healthy their offspring are….

  4. This must be the first ever legitimate, literal use of the ‘Happy Mutants’ tag, surely?

  5. Dangit, Underrat, you beat me to the same comment. ;) Certainly explains how much punani he gets…

  6. Toxic transsexual birds hanging out in toxic grounds. I guess that’s why the oil fields beneath Williamsburg made better bands after all.

  7. Whenever I get into an argument/discussion with some right-winger, and he brings up some simplistic bunk he “learned” from Rush Limbaugh (like “build a wall at the US/Mexico border”), I always say “The world is far more complicated than you can imagine. Things happen beyond what you expect, you can never plan for everything, and often your original expectations and intentions end up forgotten.” (Iraq is a good example of this.) New biological discoveries like this article with the starlings only solidify the idea. The world is far more complicated than we will ever really understand.

    This also reminds me of androgynous men being so popular with the ladies: Mick Jagger (in his heyday), David Bowie, Boy George, hair metal guys wearing makeup, etc.

    Can a biologist please explain how a female hormone in a male is somehow an indicator of male reproductive fitness?

    A great irony here is that there is nothing genetic about their improved singing– the females are choosing the better singer based on something that will not be passed on to her offspring. The males might as well be lip-syncing or using steroids.

  8. Hmmm can they further this research and discover why so many women love ‘Bad Boys’ and/or “love” their abusers (who would certainly be considered toxic!) so much they won’t leave?

  9. Ill Lich, it’s actually far more complicated than that – in fact, it’s so complicated it’s incredibly simple.

  10. Can these starlings gather coins for peanuts? I’m just getting a sneaking suspicion we’re engineering our own successor species here…

    I, for one, salute our new avian overlords.

  11. These birds are taking drugs so they can make better music and get laid.

    And yet, the creationists still say humans are such a special case…

  12. #10:

    “Can a biologist please explain how a female hormone in a male is somehow an indicator of male reproductive fitness?”

    From the actual article:

    “Within the brain of the songbird, testosterone is converted into estrogen, which is then released into the blood stream at physiologically significant levels. Paradoxically, in birds where male is the default sex, estrogens are known to be both necessary for the feminisation of the sexual organs during early development, and also for the masculinisation of the avian song centres in the brain.”

    So, as I understand it, in birds not exposed to endocrine disruptors, high levels of estrogen in that part of the brain would be related to high levels of testosterone in the body; and high levels of testosterone would be related to male reproductive fitness.

    The substances identified by, and used in, this study were estradiol, phthalates, and bisphenol A. Likely sources for these are contraceptive pills (estradiol) and plastics (phthalates and bisphenol A).

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