Carotenoid-dependent coloration of male American kestrels predicts ability to reduce parasitic infections

Naturwissenschaften. 2006 Dec;93(12):597-602. doi: 10.1007/s00114-006-0146-6. Epub 2006 Aug 16.


The signaling function of sexually selected traits, such as carotenoid-dependent avian plumage coloration, has received a great deal of recent attention especially with respect to parasitism and immunocompetence. We argue that parasite-mediated models of sexual selection may have an implicit temporal component that many researchers have ignored. For example, previous studies have demonstrated that carotenoid-dependent traits can signal past parasite exposure, current levels of parasitism, or the ability of individuals to manage parasitic infections in the future. We examined repeated measures of carotenoid-dependent skin color and blood parasitism in American kestrels (Falco sparverius) to distinguish whether coloration might signal current parasitism or the potential to deal with infections in the future. We found no evidence that coloration was related to current levels of parasitism in either sex. However, coloration of males significantly predicted their response to parasitism; males with bright orange coloration during prelaying, when mate choice is occurring, were more likely than dull yellow males to reduce their levels of infection by the time incubation began. Coloration during prelaying may advertise a male's health later in the breeding season. For kestrels, the ability to predict future health would be highly beneficial given the male's role in providing food to his mate and offspring. Coloration of females was not a significant predictor of parasitism in the future, and we provide several possible explanations for this result.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bird Diseases / parasitology*
  • Bird Diseases / prevention & control
  • Carotenoids / physiology*
  • Feathers / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Oviposition
  • Parasitic Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Saskatchewan
  • Songbirds / physiology*


  • Carotenoids