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Nest ornamentation in blue tits: is feather carrying ability a male status signal?


  • Juan José Sanz
  • Vicente García-Navas


In a wide range of animal taxa, males build elaborate mating structures to attract females. For instance, some bird species use their nests or display sites as nonbodily ornaments (extended phenotypes) in intersexual communication. Recently, it has been proposed that feather carrying constitutes a postmating sexual display. Here, evidence supporting this hypothesis is presented for a species in which such behavior had not been previously reported, the blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus. In our Mediterranean study populations, males carry feathers to the nest and place them outside the nest cup. Here, we show experimentally and by means of observational data that feather carrying by male blue tits induced their mates to increase their clutch size. In addition, males from ornamented nests fed their offspring at a higher rate than those from nests in which this behavior was not detected. Feather-carrying effort was positively associated with male tarsus length. On the other hand, females paired with males engaging in this activity reduced their feeding rates but obtained direct fitness benefits: Ornamented nests resulted in more fledged young with better body condition than those without feathers carried by males. In summary, this study suggests that male feather-carrying ability constitutes an honest signal of their parental quality and a good predictor of breeding success in these blue tit populations. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Juan José Sanz & Vicente García-Navas, 2011. "Nest ornamentation in blue tits: is feather carrying ability a male status signal?," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 22(2), pages 240-247.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:beheco:v:22:y:2011:i:2:p:240-247

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    Cited by:

    1. Gustavo Tomás & Santiago Merino & Josué Martínez-de la Puente & Juan Moreno & Judith Morales & Juan Rivero-de Aguilar, 2013. "Nest size and aromatic plants in the nest as sexually selected female traits in blue tits," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 24(4), pages 926-934.

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