Polygynous male starlings allocate parental effort according to relative hatching date
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In many polygynous bird species, males allocate most of their parental effort to their primary females’ broods. There are several hypotheses that may explain this: the relative reproductive value of the brood, the energetic demand of the brood, the genetic quality of the female and the certainty of fatherhood may all be higher for the primary females’ broods. Since these parameters may covary in nature, experiments are necessary to determine their importance. Bigynous male European starlings,Sturnus vulgarispredominantly incubated the eggs and fed the nestlings of their primary females. In an experiment we altered the order in which the clutches hatched by exchanging the primary and secondary females’ eggs before hatching. Even though experimental males mostly incubated their primary females’ clutches, they predominantly fed the nestlings of the secondary female. Experimental males fed secondary females’ nestlings significantly more than control males did. In fact, experimental males invested in their secondary females’ broods to the same extent as control males invested in their primary females’ broods. This result demonstrates that males use relative brood age to decide how to allocate their parental effort between their broods which has important implications for the evolution of the starling mating system.