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Male Starlings Sing Most in the Late Morning, Following Egg-Laying: A Strategy to Protect Their Paternity?

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According to the 'fertility-announcement hypothesis', the song of paired males might function partly as a paternity guard strategy and partly to maximize their own extra-pair copulations (EPCs). A major prediction of this hypothesis is that males should sing most when the fertility of their mate reaches a temporal (both seasonal and diurnal) peak. We report some tests of this hypothesis from a study of monogamously paired male European starlings Stumus vulgaris. Mated males sang significantly more during the fertile period of their mate and most males even completely ceased singing after their mate's fertile period. During the ovulatory period mated males sang significantly more in the late morning (0900-1200 hours) following egg-laying, when most females may have reached peak diurnal fertility, than early in the morning (0600-0900 hours). For six females, we were able to determine precise laying times during their ovulatory period and we found that their mates had a significantly higher song rate within the insemination window (the first hour following egg-laying) than before egg-laying. Although male starlings sing most when their mate's fertility reaches a seasonal and diurnal peak, our observations suggest that post-pairing song in monogamous males does not function primarily to deter other males attempting EPCs, or to attract extra-pair mates. Our results rather suggest that post-pairing song in monogamous males is directed mainly towards their own female and functions to stimulate her to solicit copulations. This may be important in the context of sperm competition if frequent pair copulations result in a higher fertilization rate for the male when EPCs have occurred.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, U.I.A., Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium;, Email:; 2: Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, U.I.A., Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium


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