Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 35–42 | Cite as

Male characteristics, parental quality and the study of mate choice in the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

  • Christopher G. Eckert
  • Patrick J. Weatherhead


A demonstration of adaptive mate choice by females in resource-defence mating systems requires clear predictions as to how females should rank “breeding situations” (defined by the quality of both the resident male and the territory he defends) so as to maximize their fitness. Since male quality is only weakly correlated with territory quality in red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), ranking breeding situations in this species will require a consideration of both those parameters independently of each other as long as both vary among males, are predictable before mating, and affect female fitness. Data from a two year study of an eastern Ontario population of this species suggested that two components of male parental quality, nest defence effort and provisioning of nestlings with food, both varied among males and were somewhat predictable. Two measures of nest defence effort were correlated with an index of epaulet size (a reliable predictor of captive dominance rank in this species) (Table 5), and provisioning appeared to be predictable on the basis of both courtship behavior and breeding experience. Our data also suggest that these two components of male parental quality do not covary. Since male provisioning tends to be restricted to the nestlings of the primary and secondary mates in this species, breeding situations must be ranked not only with respect to their manifold quality but also with respect to the mating status of individual females.


Mate Choice Courtship Behavior Dominance Rank Male Quality Resident Male 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arnold SJ (1983) Sexual selection: the interface of theory and empiricism. In: Bateson P (ed) Mate choice, Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Aspey WP, Blankenship JE (1977) Spiders and snails and statistical tales: application of multivariate analysis to diverse ethological data. In: Hazlett BA (ed) Quantitative methods in the study of animal behaviour. Academic Press, New York, pp 75–120Google Scholar
  3. Blancher PJ, Robertson RJ (1982) Kingbird aggression: does it deter predation? Anim Behav 30:929–930Google Scholar
  4. Caccamise DF (1976) Nesting mortality in the red-winged blackbird. Auk 93:517–534Google Scholar
  5. Crawford RD (1977) Breeding biology of year-old and older female red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds. Wilson Bull 89:73–80Google Scholar
  6. Eckert CG (1985) The law of battle and polygyny in the redwinged blackbird. M.Sc. Thesis, Carleton University, OttawaGoogle Scholar
  7. Eckert CG, Weatherhead PJ (1987) Ideal dominance distributions: a test using red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 20:43–52Google Scholar
  8. Fisher RA (1958) The genetical theory of natural selection, 2nd edn., Dover, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Frey DF, Pimental RA (1978) Principal component analysis and factor analysis. In: Colgan P (ed) Quantitative ethology. Wiley & Sons, New York, pp 219–245Google Scholar
  10. Greig-Smith PW (1980) Parental investment in nest defence by stonechats (Saxicola torquata). Anim Behav 28:604–619Google Scholar
  11. Halliday TR (1983) The study of mate choice. In: Bateson P (ed), Mate choice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Mass, pp 3–32Google Scholar
  12. Holm CH (1973) Breeding sex ratios, and reproductive success in the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Ecology 54:356–365Google Scholar
  13. Hurly TA, Robertson RJ (1984) Aggressive and territorial behaviour in female red-winged blackbirds. Can J Zool 62:148–153Google Scholar
  14. Hurly TA, Robertson RJ (1985) Do female red-winged blackbirds limit harem size? Auk 102:205–209Google Scholar
  15. LaPrade RH, Graves HB (1982) Polygyny and female-female aggression in red-winged blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus. Am Nat 120:135–138Google Scholar
  16. Lenington S (1980) Female choice and polygyny in red-winged blackbirds. Anim Behav 28:347–361Google Scholar
  17. Lenington S (1983) Commentary. In: Brush AH, Clark GA Jr (eds) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Mass, pp 85–91Google Scholar
  18. Muldal AM, Moffat JD, Robertson RJ (1986) Male parental care of nestlings by red-winged blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 19:105–114Google Scholar
  19. Orians GH (1980) Some adaptations of marsh-nesting blackbirds. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  20. Orians GH (1969) On the evolution of mating systems in birds and mammals. Am Nat 103:285–312Google Scholar
  21. Orians GH, Christman GM (1968) A comparative study of the behavior of the red-winged, tricolored, and yellow-headed blackbirds, Vol. 84. University of California Publications in ZoologyGoogle Scholar
  22. Patterson LB (1979) Relative parental investment in the redwinged blackbird. Ph D Thesis, Indiana UniversityGoogle Scholar
  23. Payne RB (1979) Sexual selection and intersexual differences in variance in breeding success. Am Nat 114:447–452Google Scholar
  24. Picman J (1980) Impact of marsh wrens on reproductive strategy of red-winged blackbirds. Can J Zool 58:337–350Google Scholar
  25. Pleszynska WK (1978) Microgeographic prediction of polygyny in the lark bunting. Science 201:935–937Google Scholar
  26. Rohwer S (1978) Passerine subadult plumages and the deceptive acquisition of resources: test of a critical assumption. Condor 80:173–179Google Scholar
  27. Searcy WA (1979a) Female choice of mates: A general model for birds and its application to red-winged blackbirds. Am Nat 114:77–100Google Scholar
  28. Searcy WA (1979b) Morphological correlates of dominance in captive male red-winged blackbirds. Condor 81:417–420Google Scholar
  29. Searcy WA, Yasukawa K (1981) Does the sexy son hypothesis apply to mate choice in red-winged blackbirds? Am Nat 117:343–348Google Scholar
  30. Searcy WA, Yasukawa K (1983) Sexual selection and redwinged blackbirds. Am Sci 71:166–174Google Scholar
  31. Smith DG (1976) An experimental analysis of the function of red-winged blackbird song. Behaviour 61:136–155Google Scholar
  32. SPSS Inc. (1984) SPSS-X User's Guide. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. Verner J (1964) The evolution of polygamy in the long-billed marsh wren. Evolution 18:252–261Google Scholar
  34. Weatherhead PJ (1984) Mate choice in avian polygyny: why do females prefer older males? Am Nat 123:873–875Google Scholar
  35. Weatherhead PJ, Robertson RJ (1977a) Harem size, territory quality, and reproductive success in the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Can J Zool 55:1261–1267Google Scholar
  36. Weatherhead PJ, Robertson RJ (1977b) Male behavior and female recruitment in the red-winged blackbird. Wilson Bull 89:583–592Google Scholar
  37. Weatherhead PJ, Robertson RJ (1979) Offspring quality and the polygyny threshold: “the sexy son hypothesis”. Am Nat 113:201–208Google Scholar
  38. Wiens JA, Martin SD, Holthaus WR, Iwen FA (1970) Metronome timing in behavioral ecology studies. Ecology 51:350–352Google Scholar
  39. Wittenberger JF (1976) The ecological factors selecting for polygyny in altricial birds. Am Nat 110:779–799Google Scholar
  40. Wittenberger JF (1981) Male quality and polygyny: The “sexy son” hypothesis revisited. Am Nat 117:329–342Google Scholar
  41. Yasukawa K (1978) Aggressive tendencies and levels of a graded display: factor analysis of response to song playback in the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Behav Biol 23: 446–459Google Scholar
  42. Yasukawa K (1979) Territory establishment in red-winged blackbirds: importance of aggressive behavior and experience. Condor 81: 358–364Google Scholar
  43. Yasukawa K (1981) Male quality and female choice of mate in the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Ecology 62:922–929Google Scholar
  44. Yasukawa K, Searcy WA (1982) Aggression in female redwinged blackbirds: a strategy to ensure male parental investment. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 11:13–17Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher G. Eckert
    • 1
  • Patrick J. Weatherhead
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada

Personalised recommendations