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Female Canaries (Serinus canaria) Associate more with Males that Contrast Strongly against the Background


Corresponding author: M. Heindl, Vogelpark Marlow/Bird Park Marlow, Kölzower Chaussee, 18337 Marlow, Germany. E-mail:


Male birds with bright plumage colors which entail production costs and increased predation risks should be able to emphasize the handicap function of their ornaments when they present themselves against a contrasting background. Contrast with the background may accentuate the signal's costliness and make the male more conspicuous to predators. Both effects should contribute to increase male attractiveness. It is therefore conceivable that the extent to which the male plumage contrasts against the background modifies female choice behavior as it improves the discrimination of mates. We tested this hypothesis in domesticated canaries (Serinus canaria). In the first experiment, yellow females could choose between two yellow males presented in front of a yellow and a white background, respectively. In the second experiment we replaced the yellow males with white ones. In experiment 1 females associated significantly more with yellow males which contrasted strongly against the white background. In experiment 2 there was at least a trend for preferred associations with the white male in front of the yellow background. We found no support that male properties per se were chosen. We could further clarify that females associated with the contrasting male and not with a particular background color. Thus, our study demonstrates that not only inherent properties of the sender but also the interaction of bird color with the signaling environment may influence mate choice.