Many shorebirds show elaborate breeding displays that include aerial flights and ground displays accompanied by song. The mate attraction hypothesis suggests that breeding displays function to attract mates and maintain pair bonds, whereas the territory defense hypothesis suggests breeding displays function in defining and defending nesting and feeding territories. We tested these hypotheses in the Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) by contrasting the duration and level of male breeding displays among pairs that differed in their mate and site fidelity. As predicted by the mate attraction hypothesis, males performed the highest number of song sequences during pair formation, and males paired with their mate of a prior year sang less than males paired to new mates. Further, site-faithful males mated to a new but experienced mate displayed significantly more than remated males or males new to the area. This suggests a male's prior familiarity with an area and his neighbors does not lessen his display rate as was predicted under the territory defense hypothesis. Limited support for the territory defense hypothesis came from observations of males performing breeding displays with neighboring males along nest territory boundaries. This behavior was short-lived, however, as males abandoned nesting areas after pair-formation and used adjacent or disjointed feeding areas during egg-laying and incubation. Male aggression (i.e., aerial and ground chases), as opposed to breeding displays, appeared to be the principal means of maintaining territory boundaries. Indeed, the rate at which males chased other males remained fairly constant and high throughout the breeding season. Male chasing behavior may also serve as a paternity guard to protect against extra-pair copulations. Our study also found that a female's prior breeding experience in an area correlated with a reduced display rate by her mate, particularly if that mate was new to the area. This indicates female characteristics may not only drive nest initiation, as has been shown in other studies, but are important in determining the duration and extent of male display. Received: 7 February 2000, accepted 10 March 2000.
Additional publication details
Do male breeding displays function to attract mates or defend territories? The explanatory role of mate and site fidelity