Deceptive behavior in pied flycatchers

William A. Searcy, Dag Eriksson, Arne Lundberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


One explanation for polygyny in pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) is the deception hypothesis, which proposes that females mate with already-mated males only because they are unaware that such males already have a mate on another territory. Recently this hypothesis has been criticized on the grounds that already-mated and unmated males differ sufficiently in their behavior that human observers can discriminate between the two classes fairly easily. Here we test whether male pied flycatchers change their behavior when visited by a female so as to make this discrimination more difficult. In our experiments we presented a caged female near the nestbox of an advertising male, in order to mimic the situation in which a female investigates the male and his nest site. During control periods, when only an empty cage was presented, we found that already-mated males were present on their secondary territories significantly less and sang significantly less than unmated males on their primary territories, confirming the earlier results. When we presented the stimulus female, all behaviors we measured changed significantly relative to control periods for both mated and unmated males: both classes of males increased the time spent on the territory, decreased singing rates, and increased various courtship behaviors. During the experimental periods there were no significant differences between mated and unmated males on any of the behavioral measures. Discriminant analysis was more successful in classifying males as to mating status using data from the control periods (without female) than using data from the experimental periods (with female). We conclude that when a female is present male pied flycatchers change their behavior in ways that make it more difficult to discriminate mated from unmated males.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-175
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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