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Variation in plumage reflects avian habitat associations not revealed by abundance

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Roberts, H. Patrick; King, David I

Year Published



The Wilson Journal of Ornithology


For bird species in which plumage characteristics are associated with social dominance, the analysis of status badges may reveal habitat preferences. We analyzed the extent of male Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) chestnut-colored plumage in relation to age and body size to determine whether badge size was a potential indicator of resource-holding potential. We then modeled badge size in relation to habitat variables including habitat patch size, patch shape, and microhabitat characteristics in 101 different silvicultural openings in western Massachusetts during 2014 and 2015. Overall, older and larger Chestnut-sided Warblers had larger badges. Badge size showed a strong positive relationship with patch area. Notably, our findings reveal a greater sensitivity to area than was apparent from a different study's analysis of abundance at the same study site during the same time period. Badge size was positively related to patch shape complexity—an environmental variable not previously identified as important for this species by other studies. Our findings indicate that remote assessments of avian status badges may serve as reliable indicators of habitat preferences and suggest that this approach has the potential to reveal responses to gradients in habitat not reflected by abundance.


abundance; area-sensitivity; Chestnut-sided Warbler; patch shape; plumage; status badge


Roberts, H. Patrick; King, David I. 2019. Variation in plumage reflects avian habitat associations not revealed by abundance. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. 131(2): 339-347.

Last updated on: September 13, 2019