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Mate Attentiveness, Seasonal Timing of Breeding and Long-term Pair Bonding in the House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

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In seasonally breeding birds, natural selection favors individuals that begin breeding earlier in a year because they produce more or higher quality offspring than those that begin breeding later. Among the factors that influence the timing of breeding, which include the age, health, competitive ability, or mate quality of individuals, is the longevity of the pair bond, with birds that remain mated across years initiating breeding earlier in the season than newly formed pairs. The behavioural interactions between pair members that may facilitate long-term pair bonding and early breeding onset have infrequently been studied, however. Here we report the relationship between male-female affiliative behaviour, pair-bond duration, and breeding date in house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus), a short-lived, socially monogamous passerine species in which the duration of pair bonds is highly variable within and among seasons. Finches that initiated breeding earliest in the season were those that had bred with one another in previous years. Early breeding males from returning pairs maintained significantly closer contact with their mate during the first egg-laying period of the year than did males from late-breeding, newly formed pairs. Similarly, early-breeding females from returning pairs followed their mate more closely in nest-vicinity flights during the fertile period than females from late-breeding, newly formed pairs. These results suggest that attributes of and interactions between both pair members may help to maintain stable breeding pairs and influence the timing of breeding in seasonally nesting, short-lived songbirds. Rather than advertising for or seeking extra-pair fertilization opportunities, high-quality pairs of finches may invest heavily in their mate to secure the pair bond and ensure high intrapair reproductive success.

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/content/journals/10.1163/156853904772746565
2004-01-01
2015-08-04

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