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Is Mate Provisioning Predicted by Ornamentation? A Test with Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis)


Jodie M. Jawor, Department of Biology, Indiana University, 1001 E. Third St, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Male birds of many species feed their mates during courtship and incubation. The amount of food provided can be substantial and even essential for successful reproduction in some species, and can influence female nest attentiveness in many others. Additionally, mate provisioning may predict later nestling feeding rates. Females may thus benefit from being able to determine male provisioning effort. We assessed the expression of several ornaments, known to indicate condition in male northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), and compared these with mate provisioning rates, nestling feeding rates, and nest attentiveness. We found that male ornamentation may not be indicative of mate provisioning rates. Mate provisioning rate did not co-vary with reproductive success, male feedings to nestlings, or nest attentiveness of females. However, females which were fed more often during incubation tended to provision nestlings less. Reduced female parental effort following extensive incubation feeding may be indicative of females using incubation feeding to assess future male parental effort. Male hormonal condition that favors high rates of nestling provisioning may be a proximate cause of mate provisioning during incubation, even in the absence of selection, favoring high rates of mate provisioning. Both sexes may have capitalized on this unselected behavior.