Nest Green Plants as a Male Status Signal and Courtship Display in the Spotless Starling


José P. Veiga, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


The use of green nest plants by birds has received much attention in recent years. Although many hypotheses have been put forward to explain the functional significance of this trait, three of them, the courtship hypothesis, the nest protection hypothesis and the drug hypothesis, have particularly captured the interest of researchers. In this paper we demonstrate that in the spotless starling, Sturnus unicolor (1) most of the green plants were carried to nests during the 10 d that preceded the start of egg laying, (2) males that controlled a greater number of nest boxes, so that they mated with more females, also carried a larger amount of green material to each of their nests, (3) males carried larger amounts of green plants in second than in first clutches, and (4) monogamous males did not exhibit this last tendency when they mated with inexperienced females. Thus, plants seem to exert a function during the female fertile period but not during incubation or nestling stages. The amount of green plants added by a male may be seen as a honest signal of attractiveness and status. We suggest that males uses green plants to stimulate females to breed in it so that they carry more plants in second clutches, when females might be more reluctant to breed. This strategy was apparently constrained in monogamous males mated with inexperienced females probably because parental duties, rarely recorded in polygynous males, limits the time available to carry plants to nests. We also discuss to what extent other hypotheses may further explain the evolution of green plants carrying in starlings.