Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 275–282 | Cite as

Female yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella) prefer yellower males: a laboratory experiment

  • Jan Sundberg


The importance of male plumage coloration as a signal of male dominance and a cue for female choice in the monogamous yellowhammer, Emberiza citrinella, was tested in two sets of experiments in an indoor aviary. Dominance was tested by introducing two individuals, with no previous experience of each other, in an aviary with food and water. Aggression occurred more often between two males than between a male and a female and more frequently between pairs of males including at least one old male than between two young males. Dominance was not related to male colour in trials between males of the same age class, but it was in trials between an old and a young male, often differing in colour. Thus, age may be a more important determinant of dominance than colour. Female preference for more colourful males was tested by allowing hormone-induced females to choose between a more and a less colourful dummy male. Females spent more time in front of more colourful than drabber males and also more often perched beside colourful males than duller individuals. Although male colour cannot be ruled out as a dominance signal, the results suggest that male colour is primarily used as a signal in mate choice. Female choice may hence be responsible for maintenance of bright plumage in the male yellowhammer.

Key words

Sexual selection Male coloration Female choice Male-male competition Emberiza citrinella 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Sundberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of ZoologyUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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