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Food Color Preferences of Molting House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) in Relation to Sex and Plumage Coloration

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Food color can be indicative of specific nutrients, and thus discrimination based on color can be a valuable foraging behavior. Several bird and fish species with carotenoid-based body ornamentation show color preferences for presumably carotenoid-rich red and orange foods. However, little is known within species about whether or not individuals with (or growing) more colorful ornaments show stronger food-color preferences than those with drabber coloration. Here, we examine food color preferences in house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) – a species with sexually dichromatic and selected carotenoid coloration – as a function of sex and plumage coloration during molt. We captured wild, molting juvenile house finches over 4 wk in late summer/early fall, quantified the color and size of plumage ornaments being developed in males, and determined food color preference in captivity by presenting individuals with dyed sunflower chips (red, orange, yellow, and green). On average, finches showed an aversion to yellow-dyed chips and a preference for red- and green-colored chips. We found no significant difference between male and female preferences for specific food colors, and food color preference was not significantly related to male plumage ornamentation. However, we did find that redder birds demonstrated a higher degree of food selectivity, measured as the proportion of their preferred food color consumed. These results suggest that food color is not a major factor determining food choice in molting house finches, but that there still may be aspects of foraging behavior that are linked to the development of colorful plumage.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-11-01

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