Preen oil composition of Pied Flycatchers is similar between partners but differs between sexes and breeding stages

Marc Gilles*, Rienk W. Fokkema, Peter Korsten, Barbara A. Caspers, Tim Schmoll

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Preen oil, the secretion of the uropygial gland, may be an important source of body odour in birds. By characterizing the chemical composition of preen oil, we can describe the olfactory phenotypes of birds and investigate whether odours could have a function in sexual signalling or other chemical communication. Here we analysed the preen oil of a wild passerine, the European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, to find out whether it holds socially relevant information. We sampled both the female and male of breeding pairs during nestling rearing to test for sex differences and within-pair similarity. We additionally sampled the females during incubation to test for changes across breeding stages and for individual repeatability of chemical profiles. Pair mates had similar chemical profiles in comparison with other breeding adults. Furthermore, we found evidence for sex differences and for changes across breeding stages. Notably, the preen oil of females was more diverse and more volatile than that of males, and the preen oil secreted by females during incubation was more volatile than that secreted during nestling rearing. However, we found no evidence for individual repeatability of chemical profiles across breeding stages in females. Our results point towards a function of preen oil in sexual signalling, although other functions should not be excluded. Our study is a first step towards understanding the role of odours in the social life of an important avian model species used in the study of mate choice and sexual selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-186
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • olfactory communication
  • sex semiochemical
  • passerine
  • scent
  • uropygial gland secretion
  • Ficedula hypoleuca
  • chemical profile
  • bird olfaction
  • seasonal change


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