Hypervariable genetic markers, including a novel locus-specific marker detected by a mouse major histocompatibility complex probe, reveal that multiple paternity is common in families of polygynous red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). Almost half of all nests contained at least one chick resulting from an extra-pair fertilization, usually by a neighboring male. Genetically based measures of reproductive success show that individual males realize more than 20% of their overall success from extra-pair fertilizations, on average, and that this form of mating behavior confounds traditional measures of male success. The importance of alternative reproductive tactics in a polygynous bird is quantified, and the results challenge previous explanations for the evolution of avian polygny.
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