Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 105–114

Parental care of nestlings by male red-winged blackbirds


  • Alison M. Muldal
    • Biology DepartmentQueen's University
  • J. David Moffatt
    • Biology DepartmentQueen's University
  • Raleigh J. Robertson
    • Biology DepartmentQueen's University

DOI: 10.1007/BF00299945

Cite this article as:
Muldal, A.M., Moffatt, J.D. & Robertson, R.J. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1986) 19: 105. doi:10.1007/BF00299945


Nestling feeding by males is less common among birds with polygynous mating systems than in monogamous species, because of the pronounced trade-off between parental behavior and the attraction of additional mates. In this study, however, we found that male red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) commonly assisted females in feeding nestlings in several Ontario marshes. Male parental care was additional to that provided by females, and it significantly enhanced the fledging success of nests (Table 2). Male redwings did not help to feed all nests on their territories: primary and secondary nests were much more likely to receive male parental care than tertiary and later nests. Contrary to expectation, male parental care was not restricted to the nests of primary females: a greater proportion of secondary than primary nests were assisted (Tables 4a and b). The presence of new females settling on the territory at the same time that a resident female had nestlings, resulted in males deferring parental care until a later brood. This suggests that males trade off the recruitment of females against parental care to an existing brood. Although the number of nestlings fledging from a male's territory was strongly influenced by the number of females in the harem, males could additionally increase their reproductive success by feeding nestlings in one or more nests on their territories (Fig. 2). The reproductive success of females was significantly enhanced by male assistance in feeding nestlings (Table 3). However, those females not receiving male assistance on territories of “feeding” males did not suffer a significantly reduced reproductive success in comparison to females on territories of “non-feeding” males (Table 2). Males varied considerably in the quality of brood care given. We therefore suggest that the quality of male parental care may be a factor considered by females in choosing a breeding situation.

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© Springer-Verlag 1986