Blue-green eggshell coloration reflects yolk antioxidant content in spotless starlings Sturnus unicolor

Carlos Navarro, Tomás Pérez-Contreras, Jesús M. Avilés, Kevin McGraw, Juan J. Soler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The hypothesis that eggshell colouration is a sexually selected trait of female birds is based on the fact that biliverdin, the pigment responsible for blue-green colours of the eggshell, is a potent antioxidant and that only females with high antioxidant capacity can deposit higher concentrations of biliverdin as eggshell pigment. Antioxidants (e.g. carotenoids, vitamins) are also abundant in the egg yolk, which serve as nutrient reserves for the developing embryo, and eggshell colour intensity may reflect maternal investment in yolk antioxidants. Here, we test the relationship between blue-green eggshell colour intensity and concentration and amount of carotenoids, vitamin A, and vitamin E in the egg yolk of spotless starling Sturnus unicolor, a species for which we have previously shown good evidence of sexual selection driving egg coloration. As could be extrapolated from the hypothesis of sexual selection driving the evolution of blue-green eggshells, we found that eggshell colour intensity was positively related to the concentration and amount of carotenoids and vitamin E in the yolk. Thus, mothers may use egg colour intensity to signal to fathers the antioxidant status of their offspring. Moreover, we provide evidence suggesting that maternal yolk investment in more coloured eggs can also explain the detected association between feeding decisions of males and egg colour intensity that we have found previously in this species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)538-543
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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