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Signals of quality and age: the information content of multiple plumage ornaments in male western bluebirds Sialia mexicana


  • Amber E. Budden,

  • Janis L. Dickinson

A. E. Budden (correspondence) and J. L. Dickinson, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Univ. of California, 3101 Valley Life Sciences Building, Berkeley, CA 94729, USA. E-mail: − Present address of AEB: NCEAS, Univ. of California Santa Barbara, 735 State Street #300, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. − Present address of JLD: Cornell Lab. of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA.


Male structural plumage coloration and UV signals in particular can provide information on individual quality and influence female choice, while melanin-pigmented plumage is largely considered to be important in intrasexual competition. Many avian species demonstrate both types of plumage ornamentation that may convey different information about the signaller's quality or condition in addition to age. We examine rufous and blue plumage ornamentation across multiple body regions in relation to age, condition and reproductive performance in male western bluebirds Sialia mexicana. We demonstrate a strong positive relationship between head plumage brightness and both male age and the mass of the offspring. Older males are in better condition and display a reduced plumage patch on the back while the size of the rufous breast patch increases with increasing condition but not with age. Spectral characters from the wings and rump were not associated with any of the reproductive parameters measured. In conjunction with published evidence showing that females preferentially accept extrapair copulations from older males, these data suggest a need for experimental manipulation of plumage colour in known-aged birds to understand mate choice in this species.

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