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To investigate the relative importance of paternity defences in the European robin we used behavioural observations, simulated intrusions and temporary male removal experiments. Given that paired males did not increase their mate attendance, copulation rate or territory size during the female's fertile period, the most frequently quoted paternity assurance strategies in birds were absent. However, males with fertile females sang and patrolled their territories more regularly, suggesting that territorial motivation and vigilance were elevated when the risk of cuckoldry was greatest. In addition, there was a significant effect of breeding period on response to simulated intrusions: residents approached and attacked freeze-dried mounts more readily in the fertile period. During 90-min removals of the pair male in the fertile period, neighbours trespassed more frequently relative to prefertile and fertile period controls and appeared to seek copulations with unattended females. When replaced on their territories, males immediately increased both song rate and patrolling rate in comparison with controls. We propose that male robins sing to signal their presence, and increase their territorial vigilance and aggression in the fertile period to protect paternity. Copyright 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Original publication




Journal article


Anim Behav

Publication Date





165 - 173