Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 224–230 | Cite as

Divorce in common murres (Uria aalge): relationship to parental quality

  • Allison T. Moody
  • Sabina I. Wilhelm
  • Maureen L. Cameron-MacMillan
  • Carolyn J. Walsh
  • Anne E. StoreyEmail author
Original Article


Behavioral precursors of 12 divorces were examined in 30 color-banded pairs of common murres (Uria aalge) over six breeding seasons. Common murres are long-lived seabirds that typically return each year to the same mate and nest site in dense colonies. At least one parent is present continuously from egg lay to chick fledging. Murres, therefore, have considerable opportunities to compare their mates’ parental behavior with that of several familiar neighbors. Previous reproductive success was lower for divorcing birds than for reuniting pairs. As predicted by the better option hypothesis, there were clear ‘choosers’ (seven females and five males) that initiated divorce by moving to a new bird’s site or by courting a new partner at their current site. Choosers improved their reproductive success after the divorce, whereas their previous partners, the ‘victims’ did not. Yearly divorce rates (average 8.2% per year) were significantly correlated with yearly mortality rates. Divorces appear to be opportunistic: pairs divorced after varying numbers of reproductive failures with the immediate precursor usually being the disappearance (death) of a murre from a successful neighboring site. In contrast to the delays experienced by victims, choosers formed new pairs quickly and laid their eggs no later than reuniting pairs. Prior to the divorce, victims fed their chicks less often than choosers, and some engaged in other behaviors that compromised egg or chick survival. These observations suggest that deficiencies in parental behavior were precursors to the divorce. This report is one of the first cases where reproductive failure of divorcing pairs has been linked to deficits in the parental behavior of the subsequent divorce victim.


Better option Breeding success Common murre Divorce Parental behavior 



We thank Louise Copeman, Kelly Squires, Joel Heath, Julie Shannahan, Amy Bromley and Ryan Legge for assistance in gathering the behavioral data and the Reddick family for transporting us to Great Island. We thank the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) for allowing us to conduct research on the seabirds of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. We are also grateful to Dr. Gregory Robertson of CWS for logistic support. Research was funded by NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships and Memorial University Fellowships (S.I.W., M.L.C. and C.J.W.) and an NSERC Discovery Grant to A.E.S. The Center for Wildlife Ecology at Simon Fraser University provided a stimulating sabbatical location for A.E.S. during manuscript preparation. In addition to obtaining the appropriate federal (CWS) and provincial permits to conduct this research, we also have approval from Memorial University’s animal care committee whose mandate is to follow the guidelines of the Canadian Council of Animal Care.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allison T. Moody
    • 1
    • 4
  • Sabina I. Wilhelm
    • 2
  • Maureen L. Cameron-MacMillan
    • 2
  • Carolyn J. Walsh
    • 3
  • Anne E. Storey
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of BiologyMemorial UniversitySt. John’sCanada
  2. 2.Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology Graduate ProgrammeMemorial UniversitySt. John’sCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyMemorial UniversitySt. John’sCanada
  4. 4.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatchewanCanada

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