Risk-taking and survival in the House Sparrow Passer domesticus: Are plumage ornaments costly?

Veronika Bókony, András Liker, Ádám Z. Lendvai, Anna Kulcsár

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


An important cost of sexual and social colour signals may be increased conspicuousness of the animals to visual predators. Although such predation costs have repeatedly been proposed for various ornaments of birds, especially for melanised and depigmented signals with low presumed production costs, tests of this hypothesis are rare and inconclusive. In this study we investigated whether individual variation in plumage ornamentation was associated with predator-related risk-taking behaviour and short-term survival in free-living House Sparrows Passer domesticus. In a large sample of birds we measured three aspects of coloration used in sexual and social signalling: the size of the melanised black throat patch in males, and the area and conspicuousness of the depigmented wing-bar in both sexes. We measured risk-taking by manipulating the distance of feeders from shelters, and recorded individually ringed birds feeding close to and far from shelter. Sparrows seemed to perceive the farther feeders as more risky, as indicated by the shorter time spent and smaller groups feeding far from rather than close to shelter. However, the use of the more risky (farther) feeders was not related to any of the colour traits we measured, suggesting that Sparrows do not adjust their risk-taking behaviour to their ornamentation. Males (the more ornamented sex) did not take less risk than females. Furthermore, we found no evidence that larger throat patches or more ornamented wing-bars reduced the probability of survival. Our findings were robust and consistent across multiple approaches, even when we controlled for several potential confounding effects. These results do not support the suggestion that melanised and depigmented plumage ornaments have significant predation costs in House Sparrows.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-151
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2008



  • Melanin
  • Pigmentation
  • Predation risk
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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