Eggshell pigmentation pattern in relation to breeding performance of blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus

J Anim Ecol. 2009 Jan;78(1):31-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01465.x. Epub 2008 Aug 29.


1. We test the consequences, in terms of breeding success and parental effort, of eggshell pigmentation pattern in a hole-nesting bird, the blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus that lays eggs asymmetrically speckled with reddish spots (maculated eggs). 2. We assess the effect of distribution of spots (pigment 'spread') and spot size and pigment intensity (pigment 'darkness') on eggshell physical properties and breeding parameters concerning nestling condition, investment of parents in offspring care and reproductive output in two different habitat types: a deciduous oakwoodland and an evergreen forest. 3. Blue tit clutches with more widely distributed spots showed a thicker eggshell, a shorter incubation period, a lesser amount of mass loss per day and a higher hatching probability than those with spots forming a 'corona' ring. While eggs with larger and darker (more pigment intensity) spots showed a thicker eggshell and a shorter incubation period. In the light of 'signal function hypothesis', these egg traits may reflect female health status and, consequently, this could affect male parental effort. 4. Here we show supports for some of the necessary assumptions of this hypothesis. We found a positive relationship between egg pigment 'spread' and male but not female provisioning rates per day. On the other hand, pigment 'darkness' of blue tits' clutches was positively related to female tarsus length, while pigment 'spread' was positively related to clutch size, male body mass and nestling tarsus length. Our study shows that eggshell pigment 'spread' can be used as an indicator of clutch quality. Further investigations are needed to understand the role of calcium availability as possible causal agent of deviant eggs and its relation to the maculation phenomenon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Breeding
  • Clutch Size / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Passeriformes / physiology*
  • Pigmentation / physiology*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Tarsus, Animal / anatomy & histology
  • Time Factors
  • Zygote / physiology*