Color variation among nestling brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus Ater) does not reflect differential success with hosts in Texas

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Ellison, K
Sealy, SG
McGaha, HR
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As brood parasites, nestling Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) may exhibit characters that improve their fledging success when reared alongside host young. The coloration of mouthparts of nestlings can influence adult care and, thus, the polymorphism of yellow or white rictal flanges among nestling Brown-headed Cowbirds may reflect differential success with different hosts on the basis of flange color. Moreover, because Brown-headed Cowbirds in the southern United States co-occur with Bronzed Cowbirds (M. aeneus), whose young have white flanges, cowbird nestlings' flange colors may reflect a means for reducing interspecific competition through partitioning of host species on the basis of nestling flange color. To determine whether flange color influences cowbird fledging success with hosts of either color, we recorded the flange colors of cowbirds and their hosts at a site in Texas. We also tested whether flange color was influenced by nestling sex. Most hosts of Brown-headed Cowbirds had young with yellow flanges (81%, n = 16 spp.), yet Brown-headed Cowbirds with white flanges were more common (61%, n = 107). Bronzed Cowbirds parasitized primarily species whose young had white flanges (86%, n = 348 eggs). Despite the differential use of hosts with regard to flange color, the frequencies of each were similar among nestling and juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds. Likewise, the frequencies of each color did not differ significantly between the sexes. Therefore, we suggest that a flange color matching that of nestmates is not strongly selected for by hosts.
bill color, Bronzed Cowbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Molothrus aeneus, M. ater, nestling discrimination, polymorphism, MICROSATELLITE DNA MARKERS, BROOD PARASITISM, ZEBRA FINCH, SEX-RATIO, GENE FLOW, BIRDS, IMMUNOCOMPETENCE, COEVOLUTION, BLACKBIRD
AUK, APRIL 2007, vol. 124, no. 2, p. 526-536.