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Abstract

During aggressive interactions, animals may signal their competitive ability by various ornaments referred to as badges of status. The use of a single badge predicting dominance rank occurs in many vertebrate species. However, animals often display multiple ornaments that may convey information about either different or the same aspects of the signaller's quality, or alternatively, may serve as signal amplifiers. We observed the fighting behaviour of male house sparrows in two captive flocks to investigate whether they may use multiple cues in status signalling during aggressive interactions. Beside the status-signalling bib, male sparrows possess a conspicuous white wingbar that they often display upon aggressive encounters. We tested whether bib size and the wingbar's conspicuousness (i.e. its achromatic contrast with the neighbouring dark feathers) or its area predicted success in various aspects of fighting. We found that bib size strongly predicted overall fighting success (i.e. proportion of fights won) and defence success (i.e. proportion of successful defences out of all attacks received). Wingbar conspicuousness was positively related to defence success after controlling for the effect of bib size in multivariate analyses. Furthermore, displaying the wings also tended to improve the birds’ success in defence but not in attack. Wingbar area was unrelated to any measured aspect of fighting ability. We suggest that bib size and wingbar conspicuousness may convey multiple messages on fighting abilities, specifically on overall aggressiveness and defending potential, respectively. Alternatively, wingbars may serve as amplifiers for the wing displays of aggressive motivation. Thus, male sparrows may use multiple cues in assessing the competitive ability of opponents during social interactions.