Extra-pair mating, male plumage coloration and sexual selection in yellow warblers (Dendroica petechia)

S. M. Yezerinac, P. J. Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extra-pair mating has been proposed as a source of sexual selection responsible for secondary sexual traits that are common among socially monogamous birds, although supporting evidence is scant. In the socially monogamous yellow warbler, males are larger than females, and unlike females, have extensive reddish streaking on their breasts. Using DNA fingerprinting we show that within-pair parentage was positively related to male size, and that extra-pair mating success was positively related to the amount of streaking on the breast. To our knowledge, this is the first intraspecific evidence of an association between a male plumage ornament and gains of extra-pair paternity that is apparently independent of age. This study confirms that extra-pair mating can be an important mechanism of sexual selection even when the most successful sires are commonly cuckolded, and refutes a previous hypothesis that the variation in plumage and behaviour among male yellow warblers is an example of alternative, equally successful, evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS). More generally, the demonstrated independence of within-pair and extra-pair success and their associated traits indicates that where animals have multiple secondary sexual traits, different traits may be selected by different mechanisms that contribute to total reproductive success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-532
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1381
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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