Early birds are sexy: male age, dawn song and extrapair paternity in blue tits, Cyanistes (formerly Parus) caeruleus

A. Poesel, Hansjoerg Kunc, K. Foerster, A. Johnsen, B. Kempenaers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Citations (Scopus)


Sexual selection theory predicts that signals reflecting the relative quality of individuals should be used in mate choice. Females could base their choice of copulation partners on male secondary sexual traits that honestly signal male age, as predicted by the age-based indicator mechanism. Studies have shown that female blue tits prefer older males and that aspects of dawn song reflect male quality, but it remains unknown whether dawn song characteristics correlate with male age. We compared dawn song characteristics of second-year (SY) and older (ASY) male blue tits (cross-sectional analysis), and tested for age-related changes within individuals (longitudinal analysis) and differential overwinter survival of SY males. We further investigated the relation between dawn song and paternity gain and loss. We found that ASY male blue tits began to sing earlier relative to sunrise than did SY males. This difference in the onset of dawn singing was due to age-related changes in individual performance rather than differential survival of individuals with varying expression of the trait. Males that began to sing earlier at dawn had more mating partners, and were more likely to gain extrapair paternity. Our findings suggest that the onset of dawn song can provide a simple mechanism for females to assess the relative quality of their mate and of neighbouring males. We propose that females use the onset of singing as a cue for their choice of extrapair partners. (c) 2006 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-538
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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