Female plumage coloration signals status to conspecifics

López-Idiáquez, D., Vergara, P., Fargallo, J. A. & Martínez-Padilla, J. Female plumage coloration signals status to conspecifics. Anim Behav 121, 101–106 (2016).

Intrasexual competition in female birds is a widespread phenomenon but remains scarcely explored. Females compete for limited resources and the expression of signals that indicate their social status will be favoured by natural selection, generating a dominance hierarchy among individuals. However, which signals might be involved in femaleefemale competition is unclear. In this study, we tested the role of rump coloration as a badge of status within a context of intrasexual competition using common kestrels, Falco tinnunculus, in two populations over 3 years. We used natural decoys with two different ‘pheno- types’, since the expression of this melanin-pigmented trait within the brownegrey range has been suggested to be a reliable proxy of individual quality in female common kestrels. By showing natural decoys with grey and brown rumps to breeding females, we simulated territorial invasions of high- and low-quality females, respectively. Our results show that rump coloration generates a differential response during territorial invasions. Specifically, we found that grey-rumped decoys (high quality) elicited lower levels of aggressiveness. In addition, female agonistic response was negatively associated with clutch size. Based on our results, we suggest that female rump coloration works as a badge of status in breeding female kestrels. This trait may signal female competitive ability and can generate a domi- nance hierarchy among individuals in our population. We also suggest that aggressiveness can be costly to females in terms of reproductive outcome. Overall, we provide evidence that melanin-pigmented traits in females can play a key role in intrasexual competition.

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