Avian eggshell pigments are not consistently correlated with colour measurements or egg constituents in two Turdus thrushes

Phillip Cassey, Ivan Mikšík, Steven J. Portugal, Golo Maurer, John G. Ewen, Erica Zarate, Mary A. Sewell, Filiz Karadas, Tomáš Grim, Mark E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The colourful appearance of avian eggshells is a prominent aspect of maternal reproductive effort in birds. Some differences in eggshell coloration have been reported to co-vary with various measures of maternal condition and these patterns support the hypothesis that, in some bird species, several aspects of eggshell colour (i.e. primary chroma and brightness) function as a signal of maternal and offspring quality to induce greater paternal investment. We directly quantified eggshell pigment concentrations of blackbird Turdus merula and song thrush T. philomelos eggshells and tested how the two key pigments (protoporphyrin IX and biliverdin) co-varied with other eggshell traits and egg constituents as measures of maternal reproductive investment, including total yolk carotenoid concentration, total lipid concentration, yolk mass, and shell thickness. Contrary to predictions, we detected few statistical patterns overall. We found that protoporphyrin IX concentration was negatively associated with blue-green chroma in blackbirds but not in song thrush. The concentration of protoporphyrin IX was significantly greater in blackbirds and also showed different patterns of association with total yolk lipids and yolk carotenoid concentrations between these two species (significant species interaction terms). Our results reveal that it is not appropriate to simply assume in these two avian species that reflectance-based eggshell colour measures are a suitable proxy for eggshell pigment concentrations or can be used as consistent predictors of maternal reproductive investment. These results highlight the need to assess and validate the strength and direction of the statistical relationships between eggshell colour measures, pigment concentrations, and maternal resource deposition in the egg for other species of birds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)503-512
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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