• Ornament;
  • sexual selection;
  • geographic variation;
  • allometry;
  • morphological variation;
  • neutral equilibria;
  • viability indicators

In recent years several different kinds of sexual selection models have been developed, and tail ornaments in birds have frequently been used as an example of a sexually selected character where the models might apply. However, very little is known about intra- and interpopulation variation in ornament size. We have studied the elongated tail ornaments in four species of whydahs Vidua, the forktailed flycatcher Tyrannus savana and the Asian paradise flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi. Ornaments were relatively longer in males with the longest tarsi (‘heterogony’ with positive allometry). Also, tail lengths were remarkably variable within each geographical area, the coefficient of variation (average = 11%) being three times as high as for body size characters. Models, with female preference of ornaments bearing no relation to male viability, usually generate lines of neutral equilibria. Thus, they predict extraordinary variation in ornaments between populations. However, elongated tail ornaments did not show higher geographical variation than the body size characters, suggesting that there is no line of equilibria for these ornaments.