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Effects of Early Experience and Male Activity On Mate Choice in Mallard Females (Anas Platyrhynchos)

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The sexual preference of mallard females exposed in early life to individuals of either a white or a wild strain was examined in tests in which an individual female was separated by wire from two males, one on either side of the cage. One male was of the same strain as that with which the female was reared (RS male), the second of the other type (NRS male). Inciting to a male by a female was used as the main measure of her preference; inciting to one male was positively correlated with overt aggression directed to the other male. Most females showed a preference for RS males; though this was more often the case with females reared socially with conspecifics than with those which had visual and acoustical contacts only in their early life. Females also tended to prefer the male most interested in her, as expressed by the male's approach, following and staying near. No evidence was obtained that females preferred males belonging to her own strain. Contrary to earlier views it is concluded that early experience influenced the sexual preference of females and that they respond to activity differences of males. Females showed no indications of being able to recognize and respond to the normal nuptial plumage of males independently of such experience. Implications of our findings for pair-formation in nature and the significance of social displays of males for pair-formation are discussed.

Affiliations: 1: Zoological Laboratory, University of Groningen, The Netherlands


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