Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 267–278 | Cite as

Female control of offspring paternity in a western population of red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus)

  • E. M. Gray


Extra-pair copulations, which occur when individuals that have formed social relationships to breed copulate outside their pairbond, now are recognized as an important component of reproductive success in many species. In situations where both males and females benefit from extra-pair copulations without incurring much risk, an inevitable conflict arises between pairbonded mates. In this study I investigated the conflict of interest between male and female reproductive strategies in a western population of red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). Female red wings in this population initiate extra-pair copulations, which resulted in a 35% rate of extra-pair fertilization. Females initiated the majority (78%) of extra-pair copulations away from their nesting territory where pairbonded individuals typically copulate, and females that engaged in extra-pair copulations spent a significantly greater amount of time off the marsh during peak fertilization compared to females that did not. In addition, females that nested in areas with a large number of potential extra-pair partners produced significantly more extra-pair fertilized young compared to females that nested on marshes with few male neighbors. Males’ strategies to protect paternity were limited primarily to patrolling territory boundaries and to opportunistically preventing extra-pair copulations off the marsh when they were visible. In this population females appear to use behavioral means to control nestling paternity, which in turn directly affected their mate’s reproductive success, and males were restricted to using strategies that were largely ineffective at preventing the threat of extra-pair paternity.

Key words Red-winged blackbird Reproductive strategies Extra-pair copulation Extra-pair fertilization 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. M. Gray
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Washington, Department of Zoology, Box 351800, Seattle, WA 98195, USAUS

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