Correlates and Consequences of the Pair Bond in Steller's Jays



Pia O. Gabriel, Department of Wildlife, Humboldt State University, 1 Harpst Street, Arcata, CA 95521, USA.



Individuals that maintain pair bonds over multiple breeding attempts are often able to improve reproductive success compared to conspecifics that switch partners. However, the behavioral mechanisms driving this ‘mate familiarity effect’ are still largely unknown. We investigated whether long-standing pairs in the long-lived, socially monogamous Steller's jay improved their coordination of movements and behaviors, invested more time in pair bond maintenance, or became more compatible in their tendency to take risks over time compared to newly established pairs. We then compared these pair bond characteristics for successful and unsuccessful partnerships in terms of producing offspring. Jay partners regularly perched together, gave soft contact calls and travelled as a pair even in the non-breeding season. However, the proportion of observations jay partners spent in each other's company (pair tenacity) was unrelated to risk-taking behavior of pair members, pair bond duration, or the performance of subtle pair bond maintenance behaviors (i.e., a principle component of behaviors, including soft contact calls, proximity to mates, and frequency of arrival and departure flights with mate). However, evidence suggests that reproductive performance still improved in continuing compared to new pair bonds in Steller's jays. Variation in pair tenacity and frequency of pair bond behaviors may be inconsequential because of jays’ overall high level of contact with partners. Additionally, if jays are able to maximize familiarity early in the pair bond through high overall pair tenacity, the additional benefit of increasing coordination and familiarity with increasing pair bond age may be limited.