, Volume 77, Issue 2, pp 278–285 | Cite as

Factors promoting polygyny in European birds of prey—a hypothesis

  • Erkki Korpimäki
Original Papers


Polygyny is known in at least nine (out of 36) European raptor (Accipitriformes and Falconiformes) and seven (out of 13) owl (Strigiformes) species that hunt mobile prey. The hypothesis put forward here suggests that abundant food supply and nomadic tactics of breeding dispersal are crucial factors promoting polygyny in birds of prey. The hypothesis predicts that: (1) polygyny is more common in rodent-eating birds of prey than in bird-eating ones; (2) polygyny is more frequent in good vole years than in poor ones; (3) the frequency of polygyny in vole-eating species should increase northwards in Europe, as the densities of voles in the peak phase increase in that direction; (4) the frequency of polygyny and harem size should be increased by supplementary feeding; and (5) polygyny is more common in nomadic birds of prey with annual pair bonds and weak territoriality than in resident birds of prey with longerterm pair bonds and stronger territoriality. A majority of the available data is consistent with predictions 1–3 and 5, but data on prediction 4 are scanty. Further studies on ringed birds of prey are needed to test the validity of the hypothesis.

Key words

Polygyny Raptor Owl Food supply Nomadism 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alatalo RV, Lundberg A (1986) The sexy son hypothesis: data from the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. Anim Behav 35:1454–1462Google Scholar
  2. Alatalo RV, Carlson A, Lundberg A, Ulfstrand S (1981) The conflict between male polygamy and female monogamy: the case of the Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. Am Nat 117:738–753Google Scholar
  3. Altenburg W, Daan S, Starkenburg J, Zijlstra M (1982) Polygamy in the marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus: individual variation in hunting performance and number of mates. Behaviour 79:272–312Google Scholar
  4. Andersson M (1980) Nomadism and site tenacity as alternative reproductive tactics in birds. J Anim Ecol 49:175–184Google Scholar
  5. Balfour E (1962) The nest and eggs of the Hen Harrier in Orkney. Bird Notes 30:69–73, 145–152Google Scholar
  6. Balfour E, Cadbury CJ (1979) Polygyny, spacing and sex ratio among Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus in Orkney, Scotland. Ornis Scand 10:133–141Google Scholar
  7. Baudvin H (1975) Biologie de reproduction de la Chouette effraie en cote-d'Or. Jean le Blanc 14:1–51Google Scholar
  8. Brown D (1975) A test of randomness of nest spacing. Wildfowl 26:102–103Google Scholar
  9. Brown D, Rothery P (1978) Randomness and local regularity of points in a plane. Biometrika 65:115–122Google Scholar
  10. Carlsson B-G, Hörnfeldt B, Löfgren O (1987) Bigyny in Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus: effect of mating strategy on breeding success. Ornis Scand 18:237–243Google Scholar
  11. Cave AJ (1968) The breeding of the Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus L., in the reclaimed area Oostelijk Flevoland. Neth J Zool 18:313–407Google Scholar
  12. Clark RJ, Smith DG, Kelso LH (1978) Working bibliography of owls of the world. Scientific and technical series. 1. National Wildlife Federation, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  13. Clutton-Brock TH, Harvey PH (1984) Comparative approaches to investigating adaptation. In: Krebs JR, Davies NB (eds) Behavioural Ecology. An evolutionary approach. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, pp 7–29Google Scholar
  14. Cramp S, Simmons KEL, Gillmor R, Hollom PAD, Hudson R, Nicholson EM, Ogilvie MA, Olney PJS, Roselaar CS, Voous KH, Wallace DIM, Wattel J (1982) Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North America. The birds of the Western Palearctic, vol II: Hawks to Bustards. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  15. Dijkstra C, Vuursteen L, Daan S, Masman D (1982) Clutch size and laying date in the Kestrel Falco tinnunculus: effect of supplementary food. Ibis 124:210–213Google Scholar
  16. Emlen ST, Oring LW (1977) Ecology, sexual selection and the evolution of mating systems. Science 197:215–223Google Scholar
  17. Erlinge S, Göransson G, Högstedt G, Liberg O, Loman J, Nilsson I, Nilsson T, von Schantz T, Sylvén M (1982) Factors limiting numbers of vertebrate predators in a predator prey community. Trans Intern Congr Game Biol 14:261–268Google Scholar
  18. Ford NL (1983) Variation in mate fidelity in monogamous birds. In: Johnston RF (ed) Current ornithology, vol 1. Plenum Press, New York, pp 329–356Google Scholar
  19. Glutz von Blotzheim UN, Bauer KM, Bezzel E (1971) Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 4. Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  20. Glutz von Blotzheim UN, Bauer KM (1980) Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 9. Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  21. Greenwood PJ, Harvey PH (1982) The natal and breeding dispersal of birds. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 13:1–21Google Scholar
  22. Haartman L von (1969) Nest-site and evolution of polygamy in European passerine birds. Ornis Fenn 46:1–12Google Scholar
  23. Hagen Y (1952) Rovfuglene og viltpleien. OsloGoogle Scholar
  24. Hagen Y (1960) The Snowy Owl on Hardangervidda in the summer of 1959. Medd Statens Viltunders Pap Norw State Game Res Inst 2:1–25Google Scholar
  25. Hamerstrom F, Hamerstrom FN, Burke CJ (1985) Effect of voles on mating system in a central Wisconsin population of harriers. Wilson Bull 97:332–346Google Scholar
  26. Hansson L, Henttonen H (1985) Gradients in density variations of small rodents: the importance of latitude and snow cover. Oecologia (Berlin) 67:394–402Google Scholar
  27. Heisler IL (1981) Offspring quality and the polygyny threshold: a new model for the “sexy son” hypothesis. Am Nat 117:316–328Google Scholar
  28. Houston DC (1976) Breeding of the Whitebacked and Ruppell's Griffon Vultures, Gyps africanus and G. rueppellii. Ibis 118:14–40Google Scholar
  29. Kalela O (1962) On the fluctuations in the numbers of arctic and boreal small rodents as a problem of production biology. Ann Acad Sci Fenn Ser A 4 66:1–38Google Scholar
  30. Karstinen T, Ahola K (1982) KBP: n pöllöprojektin raportti 1982. KBP:n tiedotuksia 22/82:37–53 (In Finnish)Google Scholar
  31. Korpimäki E (1981) On the ecology and biology of Tengmalm's owl (Aegolius funereus) in southern Ostrobothnia and Suomenselkä, western Finland. Acta Univ Oul A 118 1981 Biol 13:1–84Google Scholar
  32. Korpimäki E (1983) Polygamy in Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus. Ornis Fenn 60:86–87Google Scholar
  33. Korpimäki E (1984) Population dynamics of birds of prey in relation to fluctuations in small mammal populations in western Finland. Ann Zool Fenn 21:287–293Google Scholar
  34. Korpimäki E (1985) Rapid tracking of microtine populations by their avian predators: possible evidence for stabilizing predation. Oikos 45:281–284Google Scholar
  35. Korpimäki E (1986a) Diet variation, hunting habitat and reproductive output of the Kestrel Falco tinnunculus in the light of the optimal diet theory. Ornis Fenn 63:84–90Google Scholar
  36. Korpimäki E (1986b) Gradients in population fluctuations of Tengmalm's owl Aegolius funereus in Europe. Oecologia (Berlin) 69:195–201Google Scholar
  37. Korpimäki E (1986c) Predation causing synchronous decline phases in microtine and shrew populations in western Finland. Oikos 46:124–127Google Scholar
  38. Korpimäki E (1987a) Selection for nest-hole shift and tactics of breeding dispersal in Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus. J Anim Ecol 56:185–196Google Scholar
  39. Korpimäki E (1987b) Dietary shifts, niche relationships and reproductive output of coexisting Kestrels and Long-eared Owls. Oecologia (Berlin) 74:277–285Google Scholar
  40. Korpimäki E (1987c) Timing of breeding of Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus in relation to vole dynamics in western Finland. Ibis 129:58–68Google Scholar
  41. Korpimäki E (1988a) Mating system and mate choice of Tengmalm's Owls Aegolius funereus. Ibis (in press)Google Scholar
  42. Korpimäki E (1988b) Diet of breeding Tengmalm's Owls Aegolius funereus: long-term changes and year-to-year variation under cyclic food conditions. Ornis Fenn 65:21–30Google Scholar
  43. Korpimäki E (1988c) Breeding performance of Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus: effects of supplementary feeding in a peak vole year. Ibis (in press)Google Scholar
  44. Korpimäki E, Hongell H (1986) Partial migration as an adaptation to nest-site scarcity and vole cycles in Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus. V ar F agelvärld [Suppl] 11:85–92Google Scholar
  45. Korpimäki E, Sulkava S (1987) Diet and breeding performance of Ural Owls Strix uralensis under fluctuating food conditions. Ornis Fenn 64:57–66Google Scholar
  46. Korpimäki E, Lagerström M, Saurola P (1987) Field evidence for nomadism in Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus. Ornis Scand 18:1–4Google Scholar
  47. Lehtoranta H (1986) Lapinpöllöjen Strix nebulosa lähekkäinen pesintä. Lintumies 21:32 (In Finnish)Google Scholar
  48. Löfgren O, Hörnfeldt B, Carlsson B-G (1986) Site tenacity and nomadism in Tengmalm's Owl (Aegolius funereus (L.)) in relation to cyclic food production. Oecologia (Berlin) 69:321–326Google Scholar
  49. Martin SG (1974) Adaptations for polygynous breeding in the bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorous. Am Zool 14:109–119Google Scholar
  50. Mearns R, Newton I (1984) Turnover and dispersal in a Peregrine Falco peregrinus population. Ibis 126:347–355Google Scholar
  51. Mikkola H (1983) Owls of Europe. T & AD Poyser, CaltonGoogle Scholar
  52. Mueller HC (1986) The evolution of reversed sexual dimorphism in owls: an empirical analysis of possible selective factors. Wilson Bull 98:387–406Google Scholar
  53. Mueller HC, Meyer K (1985) The evolution of reversed sexual dimorphism in size: a comparative analysis of the Falconiformes of the Western Palearctic In: Johnston RF (ed) Current ornithology Plenum Press, New York, pp 61–101Google Scholar
  54. Møller AP (1986) Mating systems among European passerines: a review. Ibis 128:234–250Google Scholar
  55. Newton I (1979) Population ecology of raptors. T & AD Poyser, BerkhamstedGoogle Scholar
  56. Newton I (1985) Lifetime reproductive output of female sparrowhawks. J Anim Ecol 54:241–253Google Scholar
  57. Newton I (1986) The Sparrowhawk, T & AD Poyser, CaltonGoogle Scholar
  58. Newton I, Marquiss M (1981) Effect of additional food on laying dates and clutch sizes of Sparrowhawks. Ornis Scand 12:224–229Google Scholar
  59. Nilsson IN, Nilsson SG, Sylvén M (1982) Diet choice, resource depression and the regular nest spacing of birds of prey. Biol J Linn Soc 18:1–9Google Scholar
  60. Norrdahl K (1985) The population fluctuations of small mammals in Soumenselkä and southern Ostrobothnia, western Finland, in 1964–84. Soumenselän Linnut 20:57–68 (in Finnish with summary in English)Google Scholar
  61. Norrdahl K (1986) Small mammal trappings in Suomenselkä area (western Finland) 1985. Suomenselän Linnut 21:15–17 (in Finnish with summary in English)Google Scholar
  62. Norrdahl K (1987) Small mammal trappings in Suomenselkä area (western Finland) in 1986. Suomenselän Linnut 22:20–22 (in Finnish with summary in English)Google Scholar
  63. Norgall T (1985) Bigamie bei der Waldohreule (Asio otus). Vogelwelt 106:193–194Google Scholar
  64. Orians GH (1969) On the evolution of mating systems in birds and mammals. Am Nat 103:589–603Google Scholar
  65. Oring LW (1982) Avian mating systems. In: Farner DS, King JR, Parkes KC (eds) Avian biology, vol. 6. Academic Press, New York, pp 1–93Google Scholar
  66. Perrins CM, Birkhead TR (1983) Avian ecology. Blackie, Glasgow LondonGoogle Scholar
  67. Picozzi N, Weir D (1974) Breeding biology of the Buzzard in Speyside. Brit Birds 67:199–210Google Scholar
  68. Saurola P (1987) Mate and nest-site fidelity in Ural and Tawny Owls. USDA For Ser Gen Tech Rep RM 142:81–86Google Scholar
  69. Scherzinger W (1968) Bemerkenswerte Paarbildung beim Waldkauz (Strix aluco). Egretta 11:56Google Scholar
  70. Schipper WJA (1973) A comparison of prey selection in sympatric harriers (Circus) in western Europe. Gerfaut Rev Sci Belge Ornithol 63:17–120Google Scholar
  71. Schipper WJA (1979) A comparison of breeding ecology in three European Harriers (Circus). Ardea 66:77–102Google Scholar
  72. Schwerdtfeger O (1984) Verhalten und Populationsdynamik des Rauhfusskauzes (Aegolius funereus). Vogelwarte 32:183–200Google Scholar
  73. Schönfeld M, Girbig G (1975) Beiträge zur Brutbiologie der Schleiereule unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Abhängigkeit von der Feldmausdichte. Hercynia 12:257–319Google Scholar
  74. Searcy WA, Yasukawa K (1981) Does the “sexy son” hypothesis apply to mate choice in red-winged blackbirds? Am Nat 117:343–348Google Scholar
  75. Simmons R, Barnard P, MacWhirter B, Hansen GL (1986a) The influence of microtines on polygyny, productivity, age, and provisioning of breeding Hen Harriers: a 5-year study. Can J Zool 64:2447–2456Google Scholar
  76. Simmons RE, Smith PC, MacWhirter RB (1986b) Hierarchies among northern harrier (Circus cyaneus) harems and the costs of polygyny. J Anim Ecol 55:755–771Google Scholar
  77. Simmons RE, Barnard P, Smith PC (1987) Reproductive behaviour of Circus cyaneus in North America and Europe: a comparison. Ornis Scand 18:33–41Google Scholar
  78. Solheim R (1983) Bigyny and biandry in the Tengmalm's Owl Aegolius funereus. Ornis Scand 14:51–57Google Scholar
  79. Sonerud GA, Nybo JO, Fjeld PE, Knoff C (1987) A case of bigyny in the Hawk Owl Surnia ulula: spacing of nests and allocation of male feeding effort. Ornis Fenn 64:144–148Google Scholar
  80. Verner J (1964) Evolution of polygamy in the long-billed Marsh Wren. Evolution 18:252–262Google Scholar
  81. Verner J, Willson MF (1966) The influence of habitats on mating systems of North American passerine birds. Ecology 47:143–147Google Scholar
  82. Village A (1985a) Spring arrival times and assortative mating of kestrels in South Scotland. J Anim Ecol 54:857–868Google Scholar
  83. Village A (1985b) Turnover, age, and sex ratios of Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) in south Scotland. J Zool 206:175–189Google Scholar
  84. Watson A (1957) The behaviour, breeding, and food ecology of the Snowy Owl Nyctea scandiaca. Ibis 99:419–462Google Scholar
  85. Weatherhead PJ, Robertson RJ (1979) Offspring quality and the polygyny threshold: “the sexy son hypothesis”. Am Nat 113:201–208Google Scholar
  86. Wittenberger JF (1976) The ecological factors selecting for polygyny in altricial birds. Am Nat 110:779–799Google Scholar
  87. Wittenberger JF (1981) Male quality and polygyny: the “sexy son” hypothesis revisited. Am Nat 117:329–342Google Scholar
  88. Wittenberger JF, Tilson RL (1980) The evolution of monogamy: hypotheses and evidence. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 11:197–232Google Scholar
  89. Yasukawa K, Searcy WA (1982) Aggression in female Red-Winged Blackbirds: a strategy to ensure male parental investment Behav Ecol Sociobiol 11:13–17Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erkki Korpimäki
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OuluOuluFinland

Personalised recommendations