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More colourful eggs induce a higher relative paternal investment in the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca: a cross-fostering experiment


  • Juan Moreno,

  • Judith Morales,

  • Elisa Lobato,

  • Santiago Merino,

  • Gustavo Tomás,

  • Josué Martínez-de la Puente

J. Moreno, (correspondence), J. Morales, E. Lobato, S. Merino, G. Tomás and J. Martínez-de la Puente, Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales-CSIC, J. Gutiérrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


The signalling hypothesis of eggshell colouration in birds posits that females of species with blue-green eggs signal their phenotypic quality or the quality of their eggs to their mates through deposition of the antioxidant biliverdin as pigment. Males respond by investing more in the offspring. Through a cross-fostering experiment where we have exchanged whole clutches between pairs of pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca nests, we managed to break potential associations between female quality and clutch chromaticity. We show that males respond to incubated clutches with more variable and higher peak values in blue-green chroma through a higher proportional investment in nestling provisioning on day 4 of the nestling period, when males invest more heavily than females in provisioning. More variable clutches show higher peak chroma values. We also show that egg colour during the two-week incubation period has a significant effect, which is not found for the colour of eggs during the laying period. Finally, the proportion of male provisioning visits affects negatively female brooding effort and nestling mortality, and thereby has positive effects on female fitness. Blue-green chroma in the pied flycatcher functions as a signal of female or clutch quality to males which respond by adjusting their relative investment with respect to total pair effort.