Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 152, Issue 2, pp 243–252 | Cite as

Achieving luster: prenuptial molt pattern predicts iridescent structural coloration in Blue-black Grassquits

  • Rafael MaiaEmail author
  • Regina H. Macedo
Original Article


Colors in feathers are produced by pigment deposition or by nanostructures within barbs or barbules. In the absence of pigments or nanostructures, light is scattered incoherently, producing white coloration. Honest advertisement models predict that ornamental colors evolve if they reliably signal individual properties such as viability, health, or nutritional state. In this study, we tested if (1) iridescent structural and (2) unpigmented plumage coloration signal male quality in the Blue-black Grassquit (Volatinia jacarina). During three reproductive seasons, we captured males and measured morphological variables and nuptial plumage coverage, and collected feathers for spectrometry. We found that saturation of the iridescent coloration was positively related to relative molting speed, indicating that males investing more in prenuptial molt also produced more saturated, UV-shifted plumage. Body condition was not related to brightness or saturation of the iridescent plumage, and no male morphological attributes were associated with the white underwing patch coloration or size. Our results suggest that patterns of molt, and possibly feather growth, may affect the organization of optical nanostructures responsible for iridescent coloration, and that the ontogeny of iridescent plumage ornaments must be taken into account in hypotheses concerning honest advertisement of such signals. Thus, coloration in this species may reliably reflect energy allocation to molting, constituting an honest indicator of male quality, life history decisions, or endocrine state. To our knowledge, this is the first report of natural variation in molting pattern being associated with sexually-selected structural color plumage.


Animal communication Honest signaling Molt Structural coloration Volatinia jacarina 



We thank Alexandre Dias, Henrique Veloso, Matheus Andreozzi and Marcelo Moraes for help during fieldwork; and Marina Anciães, Valdir Pessoa, Molly R. Morris, Matthew D. Shawkey, Liliana D’Alba, Ian Horn, Chad Eliason and Débora Goedert, as well as two anonymous referees, for helpful comments on previous versions of this manuscript. This work was funded by the Animal Behavior Society Developing Nations Research Grant, National Geographic Society, Fundação de Apoio à Pesquisa, CAPES/CNPq and Universidade de Brasília. Capture of birds and their manipulation was authorized by IBAMA/Brazil (permanent license # 17765-1) and CEMAVE (#1301) permits.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratório de Comportamento Animal, Departamento de ZoologiaUniversidade de BrasíliaBrasíliaBrazil
  2. 2.Programa de Pós-Graduação em EcologiaUniversidade de BrasíliaBrasíliaBrazil
  3. 3.Department of Biology, Integrated Bioscience ProgramUniversity of AkronAkronUSA

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