Foraging Behaviour of Subordinate Great Tits (Parus major). Can Morphology Reduce the Cost of Subordination?


M. Barluenga, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, Dpto. Ecología Evolutiva, José Gutierrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


This paper studies the magnitude of the behavioural shift, from forage standing to forage hanging, of subordinate great tits (Parus major) in two different social contexts: feeding solitarily vs. feeding with a dominant conspecific. The aim is to test the hypothesis that differences in morphological design provide subordinates with varying abilities to reduce the presumed costs of subordination. We find that different subordinate individuals change the foraging behaviour, occupying a different niche when an intra-specific competitor is present. Morphology linked to sexual dimorphism, specifically body mass, is the factor responsible for the different magnitudes of change. Lighter subordinates can remain longer than heavier ones at the feeding patch without interrupting their foraging. Thereby, the former reduce the costs of being subordinate more than the latter. Among subordinates, females are lighter than males; they also spend more time feeding in the presence of a dominant conspecific than males do. No differences are found between age categories. We find no relationship between tarsus length and individual ecological plasticity. Our results support the idea that the ecological plasticity due to morphological differences is a mechanism that allows subordinate individuals to overcome costs associated with subordination.