Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 20, Issue 5, pp 377–382 | Cite as

Male parental care and monogamy in snow buntings

  • Bruce E. Lyon
  • Robert D. Montgomerie
  • Linda D. Hamilton


We experimentally removed males from a random sample of 14 snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) pairs to determine the influence of male parental care on reproductive success. Widowed females increased their rate of food delivery to nestlings by increasing their feeding visit rate but not their load size. However, Widows were only able to achieve 73% of the food delivery rate of Control pairs and, as a result, they raised fewer offspring of lower quality (i.e. lower mass at fledging). Total brood mass raised by Widows was only 55% of that of Control pairs. Thus, in the year of our experiment, male parental care in the nestling period almost doubled the reproductive success realized from a brood. Our experiment, however, was done in a year of poor food availability and data from the previous year, when food supply was higher, indicate that males may not always be so important. Since nestling food supply appears to be unpredictable at the time of pair formation, we suggest that monogamy is a bet-hedging strategy in case of poor food availability. As a consequence the importance of male parental care in some years may explain why snow buntings are almost always monogamous.


Random Sample Reproductive Success Food Supply Lower Mass Parental Care 
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. Bjorklund M, Westman B (1986) Adaptive advantages of monogamy in the great tit (Parus major): an experimental test of the polygyny threshold model. Anim Behav 34:1436–1440Google Scholar
  2. Erckmann WJ (1983) The evolution of polyandry in shorebirds: an evaluation of hypotheses. In: Wasser SK (ed) Social behavior of female vertebrates. Academic Press, London, pp 113–168Google Scholar
  3. Gowaty PA (1983) Male parental care and apparent monogamy among eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis). Am Nat 121:149–157Google Scholar
  4. Hannon SJ (1984) Factors limiting polygyny in willow ptarmigan. Anim Behav 32:153–161Google Scholar
  5. Hurlbert SH (1984) Pseudoreplication and the design of ecological field experiments. Ecol Monogr 54:187–211Google Scholar
  6. Hussell DJT (1972) Factors affecting clutch size in arctic passerines. Ecol Monogr 42:317–364Google Scholar
  7. Lack D (1968) Ecological adaptations for breeding in birds. Methuen, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Lyon BE, Montgomerie RD (1985) Incubation feeding in snow buntings: female manipulation or indirect male parental care? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 17:279–284Google Scholar
  9. Lyon BE, Montgomerie RD (1987) Ecological correlates of incubation feeding: a comparative study of high arctic finches. Ecology (in press)Google Scholar
  10. Mock DW (1986) An introduction to the neglected mating system. In: Gowaty PA, Mock DW (eds) Avian monogamy. Ornithol Monogr 37Google Scholar
  11. Montgomerie RD, Cartar RV, McLaughlin RL, Lyon B (1983) Birds of Sarcpa Lake, Melville Peninsula, Northwest Territories: breeding phenologies, densities and biogeography. Arctic 36:65–75Google Scholar
  12. Sasvari L (1986) Reproductive effort of widowed birds. J Anim Ecol 55:553–564Google Scholar
  13. Smith JNM, Yom-Tov Y, Moses R (1982) Polygyny, male parental care, and sex ratio in song sparrows: an experimental study. Auk 99:555–564Google Scholar
  14. Tinbergen N (1939) The behavior of the snow bunting in spring. Trans Linn Soc NY 5:1–94Google Scholar
  15. Trivers RL (1972) Parental investment and sexual selection. In: Campbell B (ed) Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871–1971. Aldine, Chicago, pp 136–179Google Scholar
  16. Trivers RL (1985) Social evolution. Benjamin/Cummings, Menlo Park, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  17. Weatherhead PJ (1979) Ecological correlates of monogamy in tundra-breeding savannah sparrows. Auk 96:391–401Google Scholar
  18. Wittenberger JF, Tilson RL (1980) The evolution of monogamy: hypotheses and evidence. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 11:50–68Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce E. Lyon
    • 1
  • Robert D. Montgomerie
    • 1
  • Linda D. Hamilton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyQueen's UniversityKingstonCanada

Personalised recommendations