Colouration in Atlantic puffins and blacklegged kittiwakes: monochromatism and links to body condition in both sexes


C. Doutrelant, CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS-UM2 1919 Rte de Mende, FR-34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France. E-mail:


Sexual dimorphism is widely used as an indirect measure of the intensity of sexual selection. It is also a way to evaluate whether different selective pressures act on males and females. Dichromatism, defined as a difference in colouration between males and females, may for instance result from selection for crypsis in females and selection for conspicuousness in males. Here, we conducted a study to investigate whether differential sexual selective pressures might act on the colour traits of two colonial seabird species, the Atlantic puffin Fratercula artica and the black-legged kittiwake Rissa tricactyla. First, we used spectrophotometry and visual modelling to determine whether these presumed monomorphic birds are really monochromatic from an avian perspective (birds and humans have a different vision). Second, we estimated whether some of their colourations have the potential to be sexually or socially selected by determining whether these colourations were related to body condition in males and females, and whether the yellow, orange and red colourations may contain carotenoid pigments. Our results indicated that both species were fully monochromatic from an avian perspective. Moreover, our preliminary analyses suggested that the yellow, orange and red colours of these birds contained carotenoids. Lastly, some indices of colouration were positively linked to estimates of condition. Birds in better condition had redder gape (both species) and bill (puffins). In puffins, the relation between condition and gape colouration was significantly stronger in females than males. By contrast, the size of the gape rosette was larger in males than females. The positive links we found between colour indices and condition, together with the absence of sexual dichromatism, suggest that mutual sexual selection may act in these two species.