Magpies' tails: damage as an indicator of quality
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Quality-indicating sexually selected traits may have their honesty maintained by their costs or by an inherent “revealing” nature. Long tails in birds are usually considered to be costly “handicaps”, but may have additional potential as revealing indicators through the incidence of breakage. Magpies Pica pica with unbroken and less abraded tails paired earlier, but did not nest or fledge young earlier than pairs with tails in poorer condition. Pairs mated assortatively by tail quality, and magpies with very broken tails remained unmated. Pairs in which both members had almost undamaged tails fledged more offspring than pairs with poorer tails. Tail quality did not correlate with the extent of any habitat type in the territory. Tail damage thus honestly indicated a magpie's reproductive potential, and the data are consistent with its having a role in mate choice, as a revealing element of tail morphology.
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