Plumage color as a dynamic trait: Carotenoid pigmentation of male house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) fades during the breeding season

Kevin J. McGraw, Geoffrey E. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

48 Scopus citations

Abstract

Evolutionary biologists studying sexually selected bird plumage generally consider this trait to be static throughout a breeding season and assign trait values to individuals on the basis of single measurements. We investigated the propensity for carotenoid-based color of feather patches in male house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus (Muller, 1776)) to change during the breeding period. We recaptured and rescored 63 males and found that the hue of feathers faded significantly over the season. The degree of hue change was a direct function of the amount of time between plumage scores; feathers faded more as the interval between measurements increased. The magnitude of hue change was not, however, related to an individual's age or initial plumage redness, which suggests that certain birds are not more or less prone to fading. Collectively, these findings imply that researchers should more carefully track plumage color expression during the course of a year, as seasonal color shifts may have important consequences for late-season male-male competitive interactions and flexible female mating tactics (e.g., social mate switching, choice of extra-pair partners). Potential mechanisms for this seasonal plumage color shift are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)734-738
Number of pages5
JournalCanadian Journal of Zoology
Volume82
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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