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Parental Feeding Rates in the House Sparrow, Passer domesticus: Are Larger-Badged Males Better Fathers?


P. L. Schwagmeyer, Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019, USA. E-mail:


Elaborated secondary sexual characteristics may reflect genetic quality or good health, either of which may be associated with an individual's competence as a parent. We examined whether female house sparrows (Passer domesticus) paired to large vs. small-badged mates gain benefits in the form of increased parental care or improved nestling welfare. House sparrow nests where the male had been trapped and banded were observed for 1 h on at least 5 d during the peak growth period of nestlings. Male feeding shares, measured as the proportion of total feeds per chick made by the male, were marginally positively correlated with male badge size. Moreover, higher male shares of nestling feeding were associated with improved prospects for offspring survival, and a greater proportion of chicks fledged from the nests of larger-badged males. These results suggest that females paired to large-badged males gain direct benefits in the form of enhanced nestling survival, which presumably stem from factors associated with increases in the proportion of nestling feeding contributed by their mates.