, Volume 97, Issue 5, pp 469–477 | Cite as

Does egg colouration reflect male condition in birds?

  • Jesús Martínez-Padilla
  • Heather Dixon
  • Pablo Vergara
  • Lorenzo Pérez-Rodríguez
  • Juan A. Fargallo
Original Paper


How colouration provides information about individuals in birds has been a central issue in recent decades. Although much information has been derived, little is known about the adaptive significance of egg colouration in birds. A recent idea suggests that biliverdin- and porphyrin-pigmented eggs may act as a post-mating sexual signal for males to assess female quality. In birds, it is common for males to influence prelaying female condition by courtship feeding. Using Eurasian kestrels, a species that lays protoporphyrin-pigmented eggs, we descriptively assessed the influence of male feeding on egg pigmentation by considering female phenotype, condition, breeding parameters and male body condition. We found that older females and females with greyer tails (an index of individual quality) produce highly pigmented eggs. However, male body condition was the only variable that explained egg colouration when considered together with the female-related variables. Therefore, females that mated with males in better condition laid highly pigmented eggs. With the same species, we also explored the cost of producing protoporphyrin-pigmented eggs using a food-supply experiment before the laying period. Food supplementation did not increase egg pigmentation, but hatching success and egg mass were positively related to egg colouration only in food supplied pairs. We suggest that egg colouration might be costly to produce and probably suggests egg quality. However, this cost cannot be explained by female quality, but by male condition instead. In general, our results do not support the theory that egg colouration is a post-mating sexual signal in species where males determine female condition at the time of laying.


Eurasian kestrel Food supplementation Egg colouration Male condition Female phenotype 



JM-P wishes to dedicate this paper to his friend Aurelio Pérez, who recently passed away, to his passion, for encouraging him and for what he undoubtedly did for wildlife conservation. We thank the Finat family for kindly allowing us to conduct the study on their property and C. Marqués and J. San Teodoro for their collaboration in the field. The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB), J. Viñuela and G. Blanco partially funded the field work. Sarah Young and Jessica Haines greatly improved the English. L.P.R. was supported by a postdoctoral contract from the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jesús Martínez-Padilla
    • 1
  • Heather Dixon
    • 2
  • Pablo Vergara
    • 2
    • 3
  • Lorenzo Pérez-Rodríguez
    • 3
  • Juan A. Fargallo
    • 3
  1. 1.Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability (ACES)University of Aberdeen & The Macaulay Institute, School of Biological SciencesAberdeenUK
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecología EvolutivaMuseo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC)MadridSpain

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