Sexual selection and the evolution of bird song: A test of the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis

Andrew F. Read, Daniel M. Weary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Hamilton and Zuk (1982) suggested that secondary sexual characters evolve because they allow females to assess a potential mate's ability to resist parasites. A prediction of this theory is that the degree of elaboration of secondary sexual characters should be positively correlated with parasite load across species. In support of their hypothesis, Hamilton and Zuk reported a correlation across North American passerine species between haematozoa prevalence and both brightness and song "complexity and variety", scored on a subjective six point scale. Here we show that this relationship is confounded by phylogenetic associations. We use quantitative data on song duration, inter-song interval, song continuity, song rate, song versatility, and song and syllable repertoire size for 131 species of European and North American passerines to test the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis. Across species, there are significant negative relationships between haematozoa prevalence and song continuity, contrary to the direction predicted by Hamilton and Zuk. In accordance with their prediction, there is a positive correlation with song versatility. However, these relationships come about through taxonomic associations: within taxa there are no consistent relationships between any of the song variables and haematozoa prevalence. None of the other song variables correlate with haematozoa prevalence. We conclude that there is no evidence of an association between song elaboration and parasites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-56
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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