Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 108–114 | Cite as

Sex-specific differences in site fidelity and the cost of dispersal in yellow-headed blackbirds

  • Michael P. WardEmail author
  • Patrick J. Weatherhead
Original Article


Male migratory birds tend to be more faithful than females to previous breeding sites, suggesting sex differences in costs or benefits of dispersal. In Illinois, greater site fidelity by male yellow-headed blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) was associated with reduced reproductive success the following year for dispersers relative to non-dispersers. Dispersing females suffered no reduction in reproductive success the following year. Males that attracted few social mates, and thus had low reproductive success, were more likely to disperse, whereas females dispersed in response to low-patch reproductive success, regardless of their individual performance. Males that dispersed appeared to be successful acquiring territories because none was observed as a floater. The rate of dispersal by males in this low-density population was greater than in more dense populations where dispersing males may be less successful at acquiring territories. Despite success at obtaining territories, males that dispersed acquired territories on the periphery of wetlands where fewer females nested, resulting in lower reproductive success. In the second year after dispersing, however, males moved onto more central territories where they acquired larger harems. Thus, dispersal by males may be a long-term strategy requiring at least 2 years for benefits to be realized. Long-term success was enhanced because dispersing males moved to wetlands on which reproductive success was higher than on the wetlands they left. In addition to demonstrating that both individual and patch reproductive success affect dispersal decisions, these data indicate that when evaluating costs and benefits of dispersal, researchers should use a time frame beyond 1 year.


Dispersal Site fidelity Site dominance Site familiarity Reproductive success Patch reproductive success Yellow-headed blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus 



We thank all the individuals who assisted with field work, and Robert Gibson for helping improve the manuscript. For financial support we are grateful to the Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Champaign County Audubon Society, Sigma Xi, Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, Chicago Wilderness, IDNR/Chicago Wilderness C-2000 partnership, Chicago Zoological Society, Zoos for Environmental Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, McHenry County Conservation Foundation, Illinois Endangered Species Board, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This research was conducted in accordance with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Animal Care and Use Permit #N8C093


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Animal BiologyUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  2. 2.Program in Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  3. 3.Illinois Natural History SurveyChampaignUSA

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