Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Brilliant blue and violet structural colours are common plumage ornaments in birds, but their signalling functions are poorly understood. This may be because birds also communicate in ultraviolet (UV-A) wavelengths (320-400nm), invisible to humans, but a strong spectral component of many structural colours. From a wild population of blue tits - Parus caeruleus, sexually dimorphic primarily in the ultraviolet - we report experimental evidence that females skew the sex ratio of their offspring in response to the ultraviolet plumage ornamentation of their mates. Masking male ultraviolet reflectance reversed a positive correlation between reflectance and brood sex ratio observed in control pairs, demonstrating a causal effect of male ultraviolet ornamentation on offspring sex ratio. Ultraviolet reflectance also predicted male survival to the following breeding season, suggesting that it serves as a viability indicator. When taken together with ecological effects (laying date, nesting area), our experiments reveal that an unexpected amount of control exists over the primary sex ratio in birds, suggesting that chromosomal sex determination may not constrain the sex ratios of multiparous vertebrates.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





874 - 877