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Abstract

European black redstarts, Phoenicurus ochruros, vigorously defend all-purpose territories and exhibit delayed plumage maturation, most subadult males looking exactly female-like in their first breeding season. We tested the hypotheses that such dull subadult male plumages are beneficial in order to reduce aggression of adult males either by deception or by honest signalling of subordinance status, and that, in turn, conspicuous (adult) plumage colorations are able to intimidate contenders because they act as a signal of fighting ability and aggressive motivation. Adult and dull yearling black redstart territory owners were confronted with intruders mimicked by stuffed mounts of either a conspicuous adult or a dull subadult male. Our results do not support the hypotheses tested: dull plumages of young intruders did not reduce aggression from adult territory owners and aggressiveness towards intruders was significantly higher in yearling territory owners as compared with adult owners. Conspicuous intruders did not deter dull territory owners and we found no indications that conspicuous male coloration is a signal of fighting ability or aggressive motivation in this species. Instead, the amount of aggressive response to intruders showed considerable individual variance within age classes regardless of the plumage of the intruder and the status of the owner.