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A Role for Plumage Color in Mute Swan (Cygnus Olor) Parent-Offspring Interactions

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Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) cygnets usually hatch out covered with a brownish gray colored down. Less frequently the cygnets will hatch out white. According to reports in the literature, white Mute Swan cygnets receive disproportionately more parental aggression than their brownish gray coloured siblings. To test whether this aggression is the result of plumage colouration, brown and white swan models were presented to four territorial pairs of adult Mute Swans in a series of two sets of experiments. The first set of experiments consisted of presenting each model separately to the swans on their respective territories. The second set of experiments consisted of presenting both models to the territory holders at the same time. The models were accorded significantly different treatments by the territorial adults. The white model received more threats and attacks than did the brown model. The experimental results together with anecdotal evidence suggest the use of "whiteness" as a major cue for identifying conspecifics in the Mute Swan.

Affiliations: 1: Dept. of Biology, State University of New York at Stony Brook, N.Y., U.S.A.


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