, Volume 153, Issue 3, pp 749–760 | Cite as

Does the badge of status influence parental care and investment in house sparrows? An experimental test

  • Shinichi NakagawaEmail author
  • Nancy Ockendon
  • Duncan O. S. Gillespie
  • Ben J. Hatchwell
  • Terry Burke
Behavioral Ecology


Theory predicts that traits which signal parental quality might evolve in males of species with biparental care. In avian species, male ornaments may be the most likely candidates for such signals. Male house sparrows (Passer domesticus) possess a black throat patch often referred to as a “badge” or a “badge of status”. By assuming a trade-off between male attractiveness (reflected in male ornaments) and parental care under the differential allocation hypothesis, we predicted that badge size would be negatively correlated with male parental investment. An experiment in which the badge was enlarged in one group and unchanged in a control group was conducted. Our manipulation was predicted to affect female as well as male parental investment. However, we found that eight variables associated with parental investment—the start date for breeding, clutch size, male and female incubation time, male and female food provisioning rate, and average chick weight and the number of fledglings—barely differed between treatments. Also, little evidence for correlations between natural variation in badge size and any of these eight variables was found. Instead, the start date for breeding and the number of fledglings were significantly correlated with both male and female age, while clutch size increased with female age. Female condition was a positive predictor of clutch size and number of fledglings. Female tarsus length, unexpectedly, is related to both male and female incubation time. Badge size was also positively correlated with male age. However, parental age (male or female) was not related to parental care. We conclude that badge size does not signal parental quality, but that the ages of both sexes and the condition of the female play significant roles in the reproductive performance of this species.


Badge of status Differential allocation Parental care House sparrow Sexual selection 



We are grateful to Michael Griesser, Wolfgang Forstmeier, and three anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We especially thank Cassie Schwanger and Scott Sapoznick, and also Jenny Carpenter, Jin-Won Lee, Beth Woodward, Sara Calhim, and Stuart Sharp for invaluable help in the field. We are also grateful for the Landmark Trust and Lundy Company for allowing us to work on Lundy Island. S.N. is supported by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission. We declare that the experimental work reported in this study complied with the current laws of the United Kingdom.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shinichi Nakagawa
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nancy Ockendon
    • 1
  • Duncan O. S. Gillespie
    • 1
  • Ben J. Hatchwell
    • 1
  • Terry Burke
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Animal and Plant SciencesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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