Lek-mating Long-tailed Manakins (Chiroxiphia linearis) exhibit an unusual pattern of delayed plumage maturation. Each year, males progress through a series of predefinitive plumages before attaining definitive plumage in their fifth calendar year. Females also exhibit variation in plumage coloration, with some females displaying male-like plumage characteristics. Using data from mist-net captures in northwest Costa Rica (n = 1,315) and museum specimens from throughout the range of Long-tailed Manakins (n = 585), we documented the plumage sequence progression of males, explored variation in female plumage, and described the timing of molt in this species. Males progressed through a series of age-specific predefinitive plumages, which enabled the accurate aging of predefinitive-plumaged males in the field; this preclefinitive plumage sequence is the basis for age-related status- signaling in these males. Females tended to acquire red coloration in the crown as they aged. However, colorful plumage in females may be a byproduct of selection on bright male plumage. Females exhibited an early peak of molt activity from February to April, little molt from May through July, and a second, more pronounced peak of molt activity in October. By contrast, males in older predefinitive-plumage stages and males in definitive plumage exhibited comparable unimodal distributions in molt activity beginning in June and peaking between July and October. Our data are consistent with selective pressure to avoid the costs of molt-breeding overlap in females and older males. Our findings have important implications for social organization and signaling in Longtailed Manakins, and for the evolution of delayed plumage maturation in birds.
Additional publication details
Plumage development and molt in Long-tailed Manakins (Chiroxiphia linearis): Variation according to sex and age