Like a number of other passerine birds year-old male purple martins, Progne subis, often breed in a ♀-like plumage. We have examined delayed plumage maturation in martins by testing assumptions and predictions derived from two hypotheses advanced to explain their appearance and behavior: the sexual selection hypothesis and the female mimicry hypothesis. First, we examine the success of subadults of different appearance 1) in dominance interactions with adults and with other subadults and 2) at entering colonies with different numbers of adults. Second, we compare the mating success of subadults of different appearance. Finally, we examine predictions from the female mimicry hypothesis concerning the appearance of subadults with regard to geographic variation in colony size and with regard to historical changes in colony size in Eastern North America.