Structurally based ultraviolet (UV)-reflective plumage parts can be important cues in mate choice. However, it remains largely unknown if UV plumage variation can also function as a signal of social status during competitive interactions. In blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), the UV-reflective crown plumage functions as a female mate choice cue that probably indicates male quality, as males with higher UV reflectance have been shown to have better chances of over-winter survival. Possibly, the UV crown plumage acts as a status signal in the competition over scarce food sources during winter. To test this idea, we related dominance of individuals at an artificial food source during adverse winter conditions to spectrophotometric measurements of their crown plumage. However, while controlling for the confounding effects of sex, age, and distance from territory, we found no significant effect of crown UV reflectance on dominance. Consistent with this result, we also found no relation between crown UV reflectance and over-winter survival. We conclude that the structurally based UV reflectance of the blue tit crown feathers plays little role in competition between individuals during winter despite its importance as a cue in mate choice.
- Blue tit Cyanistes (formerly Parus) caeruleus
- Site-dependent dominance
- Status signalling
- Ultraviolet plumage
- Winter flocks