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Happy wife, happy life! Male robins read subtle clues to satisfy the food cravings of their expectant partners

  • Researchers tested 16 pairs of New Zealand robins after the females laid eggs
  • They found the female birds desire types of food they have not recently eaten
  • Males were able to pick up on this preference despite not having seen feeding
  • The findings suggest that males were able to read their partner's body-language

Anyone who has spent time around an expectant mother knows that the pregnant body can crave some unusual foods. 

And it seems that humans aren't alone in expressing their nutritional preferences to partners during the process of reproduction.

Research has found that female robins also give off signals about the type of meals they desire, which are picked up by their mates.

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Scientists studied 16 pairs of New Zealand robins (pictured) and discovered that the male of the species were able to read subtle clues to cater for the dietary whims of their expectant partners

Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington tested 16 pairs of New Zealand robins after the female birds had laid eggs.

They found that female's are more likely to desire a type of food they have not recently eaten.

They then tested whether the male would be able to correctly choose this preferred food source.

One group of males was allowed to watch the feeding while a second group was not.

And the team found that the males chose the correct food, even if they had not seen the feeding happen.

The findings suggest that the males were able to read their partner's body-language alone as a guide. 

Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand conducted a study on a group of North Island robins based at Zealandia. 

They hoped to investigate whether male robins could give their mate the type of food that she was most likely to want during reproduction.

To test this, 16 pairs of New Zealand robins were tested after the female birds had laid eggs.

The females were fed either meal worms or wax worms and then given the choice between these two types of insect larvae.

After the females had eaten one type of insect, they would prefer to eat the other type when given the choice.

This means that female's are more likely to desire a type of food they have not recently eaten.

The researchers then tested if the male would be able to correctly choose this preferred food source.

One group of males was allowed to watch the feeding while a second group was not.

And the team found that the males chose the correct food, even if they had not seen the feeding happen.

The findings suggest that the males were able to read their partner's body-language alone as a guide. 

Lead author Dr Rachael Shaw, a postdoctoral research fellow at the university's school of biological sciences, said: 'Robins are a monogamous, food-sharing species, so were ideal for this experiment.

'We found male robins appropriately catered to their mates' desire, even when the female's behaviour was the only cue available to guide their choices.

'This suggests that females can signal their current desires to their mates, enabling males to respond to that.' 

Dr Shaw says the finding raises the possibility that other species might be capable of doing the same.

Females robins were fed either meal worms (pictured) or wax worms and then given the choice between these two types of insect larvae. Researchers found that female's are more likely to desire a type of food they have not recently eaten (stock image)

'In many species food sharing by the male is vital to help the female offset the energetic costs of reproduction, such as egg laying and incubation,' she added. 

'The male's ability to give his mate what she wants could in fact be an important factor in determining the success of a pair, as well as influencing whether they stay together. 

'These are really exciting avenues for future research.'

The full findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports. 

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