A seasonal shift in offspring sex ratio of the brood parasitic Brown‐headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

Matthew I.M. Louder, Wendy Schelsky, Jeffrey P. Hoover, Amber N.A. Louder, Mark E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Avian obligate brood parasites do not provide parental care for their eggs and young, and may therefore serve as a strong model system to test predictions of evolutionary sex-allocation theories, independent of parental modulation of primary sex ratios. However, none of the handful of previous studies examining offspring sex ratio in brood parasitic birds have revealed a bias from parity at the level of the female parasite, the host species or temporal scale(s). This is also surprising, because in at least one brood parasite, the brown-headed cowbird Molothrus ater, adult sex ratios are consistently and heavily male-biased. Here we used a large database of embryonic and nestling cowbirds’ genetic sex ratios collected from nests of a single host species, the prothonotary warbler Protonotaria citrea to assess potential overall, temporal and individual patterns of bias. Contrary to previous findings, we documented an increase in the calculated male sex ratios later in the breeding season. There was no effect of whether embryos or nestlings were sampled, implying a lack of host parental effect on shifting the primary-to-secondary sex ratios of brood parasitic offspring. Future work should explore the sex-specific survival and recruitment pattern of fledgling cowbirds raised by this and other host species to reconcile theoretical and empirical predictions and patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e2560
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • brood parasitism
  • parental investment
  • sex-allocation theory
  • sex-ratio bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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