Geography and age are related to plumage coloration of male Golden-winged Warblers (Vermivora chrysoptera)

Anna C. Tisdale, John Anthony Jones, Kyle R. Aldinger, Marja H. Bakermans, Jeffery L. Larkin, D. J. McNeil, Curtis G. Smalling, Lynn Siefferman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Although plumage displays often reliably signal individual condition and age, how these sexually selected traits vary with geographic region is not well understood. Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) populations are fragmented and declining precipitously in the Appalachian Mountains. Limited research suggests that Golden-winged Warbler facial plumage ornaments may be under sexual selection; black throat (melanin-based) coloration is associated with mate acquisition while yellow crown (carotenoid-based) coloration is associated with aggression and habitat quality. We tested whether multiple plumage traits (crown, throat, and tail coloration) (1) varied across the Appalachian breeding range, (2) varied with age class or body condition, and (3) covaried with each other and whether the covariance differed with geographic region. We found that crown and throat coloration followed a latitudinal gradient, with the more southern birds showing lower ornamentation. Moreover, after-second-year birds had tails with a greater extent of white than second-year, suggesting tail color may reliably signal age that conspecifics could assess. Males with more-ornamented crown color had more-ornamented throat coloration, suggesting that this species demonstrates some potential for both redundant (facial coloration) and independent (tail white) signaling. We found no evidence, however, that covariation between traits differed across the breeding range or that the plumage traits varied with body condition. Additional research investigating the signaling function of multiple plumage ornaments in Golden-winged Warblers across their breeding range could shed light on habitat preferences and communication. Received 28 October 2016. Accepted 4 January 2018.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-296
Number of pages11
JournalWilson Journal of Ornithology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Wilson Ornithological Society. All rights reserved.


  • Animal signals
  • Carotenoid
  • Geographic variation
  • Melanin ornamentation
  • Structural coloration
  • Vermivora chrysoptera

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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