Plumage ornaments


The balck throat patch (bib) of male house sparrows is one of the best studied avian plumage patterns. Both our studies and other investigations showed that the size of the bib predicts the individuals' dominance rank. However, beside the status-signalling bib, male sparrows possess several other conspicous plumage ornaments.

Among these ornaments, one of the most conspicuous is the white wingbar that males often display upon aggressive encounters. In laboratory and field studies we investigated how these plumage ornaments may influence the birds' social and aggressive behaviour. Our lab observations showed that male sparrows use their conspicuous wingbars to deter their aggressors in encounters during foraging.


Conspicuous ornaments are often thought to attract predators such as raptors and thus may be costly to maintain. In a field experiment we tested whether more ornamented sparrows show a stronger response to increased predation risk. Interestingly, we found no evidence that the black bib and the light wingbar of sparrows had such predation costs. (Publication in preparation.)

We also study the relationship of these ornaments with the breeding performance and health status (papilloma viral infections) of individuals in a free-living sparrow population since 2004.

Related publications


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