During the breeding season, female and male crested auklets Aethia cristatella (Alcidae), display similar conspicuous crest ornaments composed of elongated forward-curving feathers on their foreheads. Based on quantifications of brief agonistic interactions at a large breeding colony, we found that crest length was strongly correlated with dominance within both sexes. Across the full range of crest length, individuals with longer crests were dominant over shorter-crested individuals in agonistic interactions involving same-sex adults. Within subadults (2-year-olds of unknown sex), there was a similar trend towards longer-crested individuals being dominant. In agonistic interactions involving individuals of different sex and age, adult males were dominant over adult females and adults were dominant over subadults, regardless of crest length. In an experiment in which we manipulated crest length using life-size realistic models, male auklets that responded were less aggressive to male models with longer crests than to models with normal or shorter crests, confirming that crest length by itself signals dominance status. In a related experiment in which we controlled intrasexual competition, both males and females responded to opposite-sex models with more frequent sexual displays when the models had long crests compared with those having short crests, suggesting that crested auklets also have mating preferences that favour long crest ornaments. Taken together, these results support the idea that the crest ornament is favoured by both intra- and intersexual selection. Copyright 1999 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.