Female Blue Tits use home-made potpourri in nests to to attract males and have healthier chicks

Blue Tit by Marko_KBlue Tit used under a creative commons lisence by Marko_K. Thanks Marko!

Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) nesting on the Medeteranian island of Corsica have been known to incorporate fresh sprigs of aromatic plants, like French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) into their nest cups. New research ((Aromatic plants in nests of blue tits: positive effects on nestlings by Adèle Mennerata, Philippe Perreta, Patrice Bourgaultc, Jacques Blondela, Olivier Gimeneza, Don W. Thomasc, Philipp Heebb and Marcel M. Lambrechtsa)) reports that there may be benefits beyond a nest that smells like potpourri: these aromatic plants offer benefits to larger broods of Blue Tit chicks.

The potpourri, interestingly, does not reduce the number of ectoparasites ((Corsican Blue Tits hold the distinction of having the highest known “loads” of blow fly larvae, for example)) found on the birds in the nest. Rather, the researchers suggest that either the aromatic plants offer immune system benefits (mechanism still unknown) or, and I quite rather like this idea, the females that actively incorporate fresh sprigs of aromatic plants are indicating their fitness to males. In other words, the fresher, more aromatic the nests, the “better” the female is as a mate (and subsequently, the “better” the offspring).

Now that makes you think about that stale bowl of potpourri on the back of your great-aunt’s toilet tank differently…