Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 239–245

Alliances in winter flocks of willow tits; effects of rank on survival and reproductive success in male-female associations


  • Jan Ekman
    • Department of ZoologyUniversity of Stockholm

DOI: 10.1007/BF00178317

Cite this article as:
Ekman, J. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1990) 26: 239. doi:10.1007/BF00178317


The value of being dominant in winter flocks of willow tits may not only be a matter of personal survival for males, although their survival probability was highest among flock members. Winter flocks of willow tits contain male-female subunits, and the dominant pair may be viewed as an alliance based on mutual benefits. Dominant males provide their mates with protection in winter, and females return the help in reproductive success. Survival was directly related to rank only within sexes. Mates of dominant males survived significantly better than low-ranked males even though these females were subordinate to these males in direct interactions. Mates of dominant males were relatively spared from costs of low rank as they were subject to aggression less often than expected. Presumably dominant males prevented such attacks, as they excluded other flock members from high tree sections where their mates fed. Males should gain from improving the survival probability of their mates since it was not always possible to replace lost mates in spring populations having a male-biased sex ratio. Dominance in avian winter flocks may thus have more indirect effects than merely to improve the personal survival probability through resource priority. The benefits of being a dominant suggest that subordinate willow tits join groups because there is no space available for them to take up a territory as dominants.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990