Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 152, Issue 3, pp 661–668 | Cite as

Vigilance patterns of wintering Eurasian Wigeon: female benefits from male low-cost behaviour

  • Steven J. PortugalEmail author
  • Matthieu Guillemain
Original Article


Increased vigilance in male animals has been attributed to mate guarding (male investment hypothesis), to secondary sexual characteristics increasing predation risk (male constraint hypothesis) or for the benefit to the female (female benefits hypothesis). We studied Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) while they grazed on dry land, a ‘risky’ foraging situation, at two points during the winter period (pre- and post-pair formation) to assess if their behaviour was more consistent with one of these three hypotheses. Males were always highly vigilant, and vigilance increased markedly in more risky situations (smaller groups, greater distance from water). Mean male vigilance only changed to a minor extent from the pre- to the post-mating periods. Conversely, female vigilance significantly decreased after pairing, and was then significantly lower than that of males. Prior to pairing, males and females had similar rates of vigilance bouts. Overall, our findings suggest that higher vigilance in male Wigeon in this instance is best explained by the female benefits hypothesis. Because the Wigeon were foraging on land and were highly vigilant, even when unpaired, the females could actually benefit from the males’ vigilance without males investing more time in vigilance. In such a situation, paired males rely on ‘low-cost vigilance’ whereby vigilance serves as a safety mechanism while simultaneously benefitting the female.


Female benefit Mate guarding Male constraint Male investment Vigilance Anas penelope 


Besonders hohe Wachsamkeit männlicher Tiere wird in der Regel mit einer von drei Hypothesen erklärt: dem Bewachen ihrer Weibchen (male investment hypothesis), als sekundäres Geschlechtsmerkmal verbunden mit erhöhtem Risiko, erbeutet zu werden (male constraint hypothesis), oder zum Nutzen der Weibchen (female benefits hypothesis). Wir untersuchten eurasische Pfeifenten (Anas penelope) beim Grasen auf trockenem Land, einer risikoreichen Art der Nahrungssuche. Die Beobachtungen fanden zu zwei Zeitpunkten während der Winterperiode (vor und nach der Paarbildung) statt, um zu prüfen, ob ihr Verhalten eine der drei Hypothesen speziell unterstützte. Die Männchen waren die ganze Zeit über sehr wachsam, und ihre Wachsamkeit stieg in risikoreichen Situationen (in kleineren Gruppen, oder weiter entfernt von Wasser) noch spürbar an. In der Zeit vor der Balz bis zu der Zeit danach stieg die mittlere Wachsamkeit der Männchen kaum an, während im Unterschied dazu die Wachsamkeit der Weibchen nach der Paarung deutlich nachließ und dann signifikant niedriger als die der Männchen war. Vor der Paarbildung zeigten Weibchen und Männchen ähnlich häufige Kurzphasen der Wachsamkeit. Unsere Untersuchungen legen nahe, dass im vorliegenden Fall die erhöhte Wachsamkeit männlicher Pfeifenten am besten von der „female benefits hypothesis” erklärt wird. Weil die Pfeifenten an Land auf Nahrungssuche gehen und dabei besonders im unverpaarten Stadium außerordentlich wachsam sind, konnten die Weibchen von der Wachsamkeit der Männchen profitieren, ohne dass diese Extra-Zeit dafür aufwenden mußten. Die verpaarten Männchen begnügen sich mit dieser Kosten-effizienten Wachsamkeit (low-cost vigilance), wobei diese als ein Sicherheitssystem dient, das gleichzeitig den Weibchen nutzt.



We are grateful to Nigel Brown for assistance during the planning of the fieldwork, and to David Gardiner for logistical support. Graham Martin, Jon Green and an anonymous referee provided useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. We are also grateful to the numerous students, particularly Tom Richardson, who assisted with fieldwork, and Claire Tyler and Craig White for useful discussions.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Centre for Ornithology, School of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental SciencesThe University of BirminghamEdgbaston, BirminghamUK
  2. 2.Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage, CNERAArlesFrance

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