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Paternal care and male mate–attraction effort in the European starling is adjusted to clutch size

Jan Komdeur, Popko Wiersma, Michael Magrath


In facultative polygynous birds with biparental care, a trade–off may occur between male parental care and attraction of additional mates. If there is a cost associated with reduced male parental care, the relative benefit of mate attraction may be predicted to decrease as the size of a male's clutch or brood increases. We tested this prediction in monogamous pairs of facultatively polygynous European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). The larger the clutch, the more time the male spent incubating and the less time he spent attracting an additional female (i.e. singing near and carrying green nesting material into adjacent empty nest–boxes). Reduced paternal incubation resulted in lower overall incubation (the female did not compensate) and lower hatching success. Immediately after experimental reduction of clutches, males spent significantly less time incubating and more time singing and carrying greenery, and vice versa for experimentally enlarged clutches. Males with experimentally reduced clutches attracted a second female more often than males with experimentally enlarged clutches. This is the first study, to our knowledge, to provide experimental evidence for an adjustment of paternal care and male mate–attraction effort to clutch size. However, a trade–off between paternal nestling provisioning and mate attraction was not revealed, probably due to the absence of unpaired females by that time in the breeding season. Experiments showed that the relative contribution of the male and female to nestling provisioning was unrelated to brood size.

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