Mouth Color Signals Thermal State of Nestling Dark-Eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis)


Corresponding author: Ethan D. Clotfelter, Department of Biology, Providence College, 549 River Avenue, Providence, RI 02918, USA. E-mail:


In many species of birds, nestlings have brightly colored mouths. Some studies have found that mouth color is related to hunger, and may serve to solicit feedings from parents. We devised two experiments to test the hypothesis that mouth color is an indicator of hunger in nestling dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), and neither experiment produced results to support the hypothesis. We did find, however, that mouth redness saturation increased for the duration of our experiments (60 min). We devised a third experiment to investigate the effect of a different stressor, temperature. In the third experiment, mouth redness decreased in saturation when microenvironment temperature increased following a period of cooling. These findings suggest that mouth color indicates thermal state of nestling dark-eyed juncos and may function as a signal to the female to brood them.