A field test of female mate preference for male plumage coloration in eastern bluebirds

Mark Liu, Lynn Siefferman, Herman Mays, John E. Steffen, Geoffrey E. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


A growing body of evidence shows that female birds use male plumage coloration as an important criterion in mate choice. In the field, however, males with brighter coloration may both compete better for high-quality territories and be the object of female choice. Positive associations between territory quality, male-male competitive ability and female preferences can make it difficult to determine whether females actively choose the most ornamented males. Male eastern bluebirds, Sialia sialis, display brilliant ultraviolet (UV)-blue plumage coloration on their heads, backs, wings and tails and chestnut coloration on their breasts, which is positively correlated with condition, reproductive effort and reproductive success. We tested the hypothesis that female bluebirds prefer males that display brighter and more chromatic coloration by experimentally widowing males in the field and allowing replacement females to choose partners. We controlled for the influence of territory quality on female choice by widowing dyads of males with adjacent territories. We found no evidence that UV-blue or chestnut plumage coloration, body size or body condition predicted the male with which a female would pair. We found no support for the hypothesis that the coloration of male eastern bluebirds functions as a criterion in female mate choice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)879-885
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


Dive into the research topics of 'A field test of female mate preference for male plumage coloration in eastern bluebirds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this