Multiple male traits interact: Attractive bower decorations facilitate attractive behavioural displays in satin bowerbirds

Gail L. Patricelli, J. Albert C. Uy, Gerald Borgia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Sexually selected male courtship displays often involve multiple behavioural and physical traits, but little is known about the function of different traits in mate choice. Here, we examine female courtship behaviours to learn how male traits interact to influence female mating decisions. In satin bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus), successful males give highly aggressive, intense behavioural displays without startling females. Males do this by modulating their displays in response to female crouching, which signals the display intensity that females will tolerate without being startled. Females typically visit multiple males for multiple courtships before choosing a mate, and females show differing tolerance for intense displays during their first courtship with each male. We test three hypotheses that may explain this: (i) familiarity with the courting male; (ii) the order of the courtship in mate-searching; and (iii) the attractiveness of the courting male. We found that females are more tolerant of intense displays during first courtships with attractive males; this increased female tolerance may allow attractive males to give higher intensity courtship displays that further enhance their attractiveness. We then examined why this is so, finding evidence that females are less likely to be startled by males with better physical displays (bower decorations), and this reduced startling then contributes to male courtship success. This role of physical displays in facilitating behavioural displays suggests a novel mechanism by which multiple physical and behavioural traits may influence female choice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2389-2395
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1531
StatePublished - Nov 22 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavioural traits
  • Courtship
  • Female signals
  • Multiple traits
  • Satin bowerbirds
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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