Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 421–427 | Cite as

An experimental study of male adornment in the scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird: II. The role of the elongated tail in mate choice and experimental evidence for a handicap

  • Matthew R. Evans
  • B. J. Hatchwell


Scarlet-tufted malachite sunbirds (Neetarinia johnstoni) are endemic to the high altitude zones of East African mountains. On Mount Kenya the males are resident and territorial all year. The females arrive over an extended period at the beginning of the breeding season, after spending the non-breeding season in nomadic flocks at slightly lower elevations. Males are bright iridescent green with elongated central tail feathers, which are displayed during courtship. We examined the role of the tail in mate choice using natural variation and investigated the influence of tail length on male time budgets by experimental manipulation. Territorial males that paired had longer tails than territorial males which remained unpaired. Males with naturally long tails started breeding earlier, resulting in fledglings being produced earlier in the season when the weather was more clement. Birds which bred together in one year were paired together in the next year if they both survived. Thus the male's tail may only be involved as a cue in the formation of new pairs. Males which were already paired were subjected to one of three experimental treatments — having their tail elongated, shortened, or manipulated but kept at the same length. Males with experimentally shortened tails spent more time in flight and hawked for flying insects with a higher efficiency than control males. Both control and elongated tail males reduced the amount of time in flight and had a lower hawking efficiency after manipulation. These results suggest that the long tail of male scarlet-tufted malachite sunbirds is a handicap. The factors influencing the reproductive success of a pair are discussed.


Reproductive Success Breeding Season Mate Choice Malachite Tail Length 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew R. Evans
    • 1
  • B. J. Hatchwell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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