Mating strategies, parental investment and mutual ornamentation in Iberian Rock Sparrows (Petronia petronia)

in Behaviour
No Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


Relatively few bird species show complex social mating systems whose preponderance in a population is likely to affect the patterns of parental care observed there. In turn, parental investment is likely to be related to the expression of certain ornaments, which may reveal information on the bearer’s individual quality. Here we address both issues in a species characterised by several forms of parental care (both biparental and uniparental care) and in which both sexes possess a yellow breast patch, the rock sparrow (Petronia petronia). In our population, males contributed more to the care of the young in comparison with other populations. Social monogamy was the most frequent mating pattern and the percentage of cases of female (or male) brood desertion was lower with respect to that reported in previous studies, suggesting a flexible behaviour of this species to deal with different social environments. Birds did not pair assortatively with respect to the size of the yellow breast patch and we found no significant relationship between this trait and the frequency with which parents provisioned their chicks. However, we observed a positive relationship between male yellow patch size and nestling tarsus length, which suggests that more ornamented males are better parents. Males, but not females, differentially allocated parental investment in response to female ornamentation, although the benefits that males may gain from choosing more attractive females remain unidentified. Our results on paternal care investment along with previous studies on this species, reinforcing the view that the rock sparrow constitutes a good model to study sexual conflict over parental care under different social environments.

Mating strategies, parental investment and mutual ornamentation in Iberian Rock Sparrows (Petronia petronia)

in Behaviour



AbersonC.L. (2010). Applied power analysis for the behavioral sciences. — Taylor & FrancisNew York, NY.

AmatJ.A.FragaR.M.ArroyoG.M. (1999). Brood desertion and polygamous breeding in the Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus. — Ibis 141: 596-607.

AmudsenT.PärnH. (2006). Female coloration: review of functional and nonfunctional hypotheses. — In: Bird colorationVol. 2: function and evolution ( McGrawK.J.HillG.E. eds). Harvard University PressCambridge, MA p.  280-348.

AnderssonS.ÖrnborgJ.AnderssonM. (1998). Ultraviolet sexual dimorphism and assortative mating in Blue Tits. — Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B: Biol. 265: 445-450.

BurleyN. (1986). Sexual selection for aesthetic traits in species with biparental care. — Am. Nat. 127: 415-445.

Clutton-BrockT.H. (2009). Sexual selection in females. — Anim. Behav. 77: 3-11.

CrampS. (1998). The complete birds of the Western Paleartic (CD-Rom). — Optimedia Oxford.

DelheyK.PetersA.JohnsenA.KempenaersB. (2007). Fertilization success and UV ornamentation in blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus: correlational and experimental evidence. — Behav. Ecol. 18: 399-409.

del HoyoJ.ElliottA.ChristieD.A. (eds) (2009). Handbook of the birds of the worldVol. 14: bush-shrikes to Old World sparrows. — Lynx EdicionsBarcelona.

DuboisN.S.KennedyE.D.GettyT. (2006). Surplus nest boxes and the potential for polygyny affect clutch size and offspring sex ratio in house wrens. — Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B: Biol. 273: 1751-1757.

EdwardD.A.ChapmanT. (2011). The evolution and significance of male mate choice. — Trends Ecol. Evol. 26: 647-656.

EllegrenH. (1996). First gene on the avian W chromosome (CHD) provides a tag for universal sexing of non-ratite birds. — Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B: Biol. 263: 1635-1641.

FridolfssonA.EllegrenH. (1999). A simple and universal method for molecular sexing of non-ratite birds. — J. Avian Biol. 30: 116-121.

García-NavasV.SanzJ.J. (2010). Flexibility in the foraging behavior of blue tits in response to short-term manipulations of brood size. — Ethology 116: 744-754.

García-NavasV.SanzJ.J. (2011). Seasonal decline in provisioning effort and nestling mass of Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus: experimental support for the parental quality hypothesis. — Ibis 153: 59-69.

GriffithS.C.ÖrnborgJ.RussellA.F.AnderssonS.SheldonB.C. (2003). Correlations between ultraviolet coloration, overwinter survival and offspring sex ratio in the Blue Tit. — J. Evol. Biol. 16: 1045-1054.

GriffithsR.DoubleM.OrrK.DawsonR. (1998). A DNA test to sex most birds. — Mol. Ecol. 7: 1071-1075.

GriggioM.PilastroA. (2007). Sexual conflict over parental care in a species with female and male brood desertion. — Anim. Behav. 74: 779-785.

GriggioM.VenutoG. (2007). The relationship between mate guarding and brood desertion in the Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia. — Ethol. Ecol. Evol. 19: 175-182.

GriggioM.TavecchiaG.BiddauL.MingozziT. (2003). Mating strategies in the Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia: the role of female quality. — Ethol. Ecol. Evol. 15: 389-398.

GriggioM.ValeraF.CasasA.PilastroA. (2005a). Males prefer ornamented females: a field experiment of male choice in the Rock Sparrow. — Anim. Behav. 69: 1243-1250.

GriggioM.MatessiG.PilastroA. (2005b). Should I stay or should I go? Female brood desertion and male counter strategy in Rock Sparrows. — Behav. Ecol. 16: 435-441.

GriggioM.SerraL.LicheriD.MontiA.PilastroA. (2007). Armaments and ornaments in the Rock Sparrow: a possible dual utility of a carotenoid-based feather signal. — Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 61: 423-433.

GriggioM.DevigiliA.HoiH.PilastroA. (2009a). Female ornamentation and directional male mate preference in the Rock Sparrow. — Behav. Ecol. 20: 1072-1078.

GriggioM.MorosinottoC.PilastroA. (2009b). Nestlings’ carotenoid feather ornament affects parental allocation strategy and reduces maternal survival. — J. Evol. Biol. 22: 2077-2085.

GriggioM.ZanolloV.HoiH. (2010). Female ornamentation, parental quality, and competitive ability in the rock sparrow. — J. Ethol. 28: 455-462.

HamiltonW.D.ZukM. (1982). Heritable true fitness and bright birds: a role for parasites?Science 218: 384-387.

Hidalgo-GarcíaS. (2006). The carotenoid-based plumage coloration of adult Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus correlates with the health status of their brood. — Ibis 148: 727-734.

HoelzerG.A. (1989). The good parent process of sexual selection. — Anim. Behav. 38: 1067-1078.

HoustonA.I.SzékelyT.McNamaraJ.M. (2005). Conflict between parents over care. — Trends Ecol. Evol. 20: 33-38.

KempenaersB. (1994). Polygyny in the blue tit: unbalanced sex ratio and female aggression restrict mate choice. — Anim. Behav. 47: 943-957.

KeyserA.J.HillG.E. (2000). Structurally based plumage coloration is an honest signal of quality in male blue grosbeaks. — Behav. Ecol. 11: 202-209.

KissD.HegyiG.TörökJ.RosivallB. (in press). The relationship between maternal ornamentation and feeding rate is explained by intrinsic nestling quality. — Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. DOI:10.1007/s00265-012-1437-x

KorstenP. (2006). Avian sex allocation and ornamental coloration. A study on blue tits. — PhD thesis University of Groningen Groningen. Available online at:

KraaijeveldK.Kraaijeveld-SmitF.J.L.KomdeurJ. (2007). The evolution of mutual ornamentation. — Anim. Behav. 71: 657-677.

LessellsC.M. (2012). Sexual conflict. — In: The evolution of parental care ( RoyalN.J.SmisethP.T.KollikerM. eds). Oxford University PressOxford p.  150-170.

LlambíasP.E.LaBarberaK.E.AstiéA.A. (2012). Similar patterns of parental provisioning in a monogamous and a polygynous population of the House Wren. — Condor 114: 629-638.

LiS.LuX. (2012). Breeding biology of Rock Sparrows Petronia petronia in the Tibetan plateau, with special reference to life history variation across altitudes. — Acta Ornithol. 47: 19-25.

LimbourgT.MatemanC.LessellsC.M. (2013). Parental care and UV coloration in blue tits: opposite correlations in males and females between provisioning rate and mate’s coloration. — J. Avian Biol. 44: 17-26.

LinvilleS.U.BreitwischR.SchillingA.J. (1998). Plumage brightness as an indicator of parental care in northern cardinals. — Anim. Behav. 55: 119-127.

MahrK.GriggioM.GranatieroM.HoiH. (2012). Female attractiveness affects paternal investment: experimental evidence for male differential allocation in blue tits. — Front. Zool. 9: 14.

MatessiG.McGregorP.K.PeakeT.M.DabelsteenT. (2005). Do male birds intercept and use rival courtship calls to adjust paternity protection behaviours?Behaviour 142: 507-524.

MatessiG.McGregorP.K.PeakeT.M.DabelsteenT. (2007). Female Rock Sparrows (Petronia petronia), not males, respond differently to simulations of different courtship interaction outcomes. — Behaviour 144: 735-742.

MatessiG.CarmagnaniC.GriggioM.PilastroA. (2009). Male Rock Sparrows differentially allocate nest defence but not food provisioning to offspring. — Behaviour 146: 209-223.

MacDougallA.K.MontgomerieR. (2003). Assortative mating by carotenoid-based plumage colour: a quality indicador in American Goldfinches, Carduelis tristis. — Naturwissenschaften 90: 464-467.

MurphyT.G. (2008). Lack of assortative mating for tail, body size, or condition in the elaborate monomorphic Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa). — Auk 125: 11-19.

PerrinsC.M. (1970). Timing of birds’ breeding seasons. — Ibis 112: 242-255.

PilastroA.BiddauL.MarinG.MingozziT. (2001). Female brood desertion increases with the number of available mates in the Rock Sparrow. — J. Avian Biol. 32: 68-72.

PilastroA.GriggioM.BiddauL.MingozziT. (2002). Extrapair paternity as a cost of polygyny in the Rock Sparrow: behavioural and genetic evidence of the ‘trade-off’ hypothesis. — Anim. Behav. 63: 967-974.

PilastroA.GriggioM.MatessiG. (2003). Male Rock Sparrows adjust their breeding strategy according to female ornamentation: parental or mating investment?Anim. Behav. 66: 265-271.

PogányA.SzentirmaiI.KomdeurJ.SzékelyT. (2008). Sexual conflict and consistency of offspring desertion in Eurasian penduline tit Remiz pendulinus. — BMC Ecology 8: 242.

PogányA.van DijkR.HorváthP.SzékelyT. (2012). Parental behaviour and reproductive output in male-only cared and female-only cared clutches in the Eurasian Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus). — Auk 129: 773-781.

PriceT.KirkpatrickM.ArnoldS.J. (1988). Directional selection and the evolution of breeding date in birds. — Science 240: 798-799.

RatikainenI.I.KokkoH. (2010). Differential allocation and compensation: who deserves the silver spoon?Behav. Ecol. 21: 195-200.

RodríguezC.TapiaL.KienyF.BustamanteJ. (2010). Temporal changes in Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) diet during the breeding season in Southern Spain. — J. Raptor Res. 44: 120-128.

RossmanithE.HontschK.BlaumN.JeltschF. (2007). Reproductive success and nestling diet in the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Picoides minor): the early bird gets the caterpillar. — J. Ornithol. 148: 323-332.

RoulinA.JungiT.W.PfisterH.DijkstraC. (2000). Female barn owls (Tyto alba) advertise good genes. — Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B: Biol. 267: 937-941.

RosvallK.A. (2009). Costs and benefits of intrasexual aggression in females: an experimental approach. — PhD dissertation Duke University Durham NC.

SenarJ.C.FiguerolaJ.PascualJ. (2002). Brighter yellow Blue Tits make better parents. — Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B: Biol. 269: 257-261.

SheldonB.C. (2000). Differential allocation: tests, mechanisms and implications. — Trends Ecol. Evol. 15: 397-402.

SmithL.M.BurgoyneL.A. (2004). Collecting, archiving and processing DNA from wildlife samples using FTA® databasing paper. — BMC Ecol. 4: 4.

SzékelyT.WebbJ.N.HoustonA.I.McNamaraJ.M. (1996). An evolutionary approach to offspring desertion in birds. — Curr. Ornithol. 13: 271-330.

SzékelyT.CuthillI.C.KisJ. (1999). Brood desertion in Kentish Plover: sex differences in remating opportunities. — Behav. Ecol. 10: 185-190.

SzöllösiE.RosivallB.HasselquistD.TörökJ. (2009). The effect of parental quality and malaria infection on nestling performance in the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). — J. Ornithol. 150: 519-527.

TavecchiaG.PradelR.LebretonJ.D.BiddauL.MingozziT. (2002). Sex-biased survival and breeding dispersal probability in a patchy population of the Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia. — Ibis 144: 79-87.

TorneroJ. (2003). Los Quintos de Mora. — Organismo Autónomo Parques NacionalesMadrid.

TóthZ.GriggioM. (2011). Leaders are more attractive: birds with bigger yellow breast patches are followed by more group-mates in foraging groups. — PLoS ONE 6: e26605.

ValeraF.HoiH.SchleicherB. (1997). Egg burial in penduline tits, Remiz pendulinus: its role in mate desertion and female polyandry. — Behav. Ecol. 8: 20-27.

van DijkR.E.SzentirmaiI.KomdeurJ.SzékelyT. (2007). Sexual conflict over parental care in penduline tits: the process of clutch desertion. — Ibis 149: 530-534.

van DijkR.E.BrinkhuizenD.M.SzékelyT.KomdeurJ. (2010). Parental care strategies in Eurasian penduline tit are not related to breeding densities and mating opportunities. — Behaviour 147: 1551-1565.

van RooijE.P.GriffithS.C. (2012). No evidence of assortative mating on the basis of putative ornamental traits in Long-tailed Finches Poephila acuticauda. — Ibis 154: 444-451.

VerhulstS.van BalenJ.H.TinbergenJ.M. (1995). Seasonal decline in reproductive success of the Great Tit: variation in time or quality?Ecology 76: 2392-2403.

WardropS.L.YdenbergR.C. (2003). Date and parental quality effects in the seasonal decline in reproductive performance of the Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor: interpreting results in light of potential experimental bias. — Ibis 145: 439-447.

WhittinghamL.A.RobertsonR.J. (1994). Food availability, parental care and male mating success in Red-Winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). — J. Anim. Ecol. 63: 139-150.

WrightJ.BothC.CottonP.A.BryantD. (1998). Quality vs. quantity: energetic and nutritional tradeoffs in parental provisioning strategies. — J. Anim. Ecol. 67: 620-634.


  • View in gallery

    Relationship between male tarsus length and calendar date in an Iberian population of rock sparrows.

  • View in gallery

    Number of female visits to the nest without food delivery in relation to calendar date.

  • View in gallery

    Male’s share of provisioning effort (proportion of provisioning visits to the nest by the male divided by the total number of visits by the male and the female) plotted against the size of the partner’s yellow patch. Only bi-parental nests (i.e., those in which both parents contributed to chick-rearing) were considered.

  • View in gallery

    Offspring tarsus length at day 13 in relation to degree of ornamentation of the rearing father.

  • View in gallery

    Parental care in three different populations of rock sparrows ((i) monogamous nests with bi-parental care, (ii) nests in which the male deserted the brood (female-only cared) and (iii) nest abandoned by the female (male-only cared)). Proportions for each locality were obtained from the bibliography (Italy-France: Griggio & Pilastro, 2007; Griggio & Venuto, 2007; Tibet: Li & Lu, 2012) and the authors’ own data (Spain). Only nests in which the authors performed direct behavioural observations were considered. Circular sectors indicate the relative contribution of each sex (female/male) to nestling provisioning in nests with bi-parental care in each population. The darker areas in the map denote the distribution range of this species (adapted from Cramp, 1998).


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 36 36 8
Full Text Views 43 43 29
PDF Downloads 7 7 0
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0