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Made-up mouths with preen oil reveal genetic and phenotypic conditions of starling nestlings

Cite this dataset

Soler, Juan José et al. (2022). Made-up mouths with preen oil reveal genetic and phenotypic conditions of starling nestlings [Dataset]. Dryad.


Animal colouration are due to pigments, nanostructures, or to the cosmetic use of natural products, and plays a central role in social communication. The role of cosmetic colouration has traditionally been focussed on scenarios of sexual selection, but it could also be used in other contexts. Here, by using spotless starling (Sturnus unicolor) as a model system, we explore the possibility that nestlings cosmetically used their intensely yellow coloured uropygial secretion to signal their genetic and/or phenotypic quality to their parents. In agreement with the hypothetical cosmetic use of the uropygial secretion, (i) video recorded nestlings collected secretion with the bill at the age of feathering, (ii) cotton swabs turned to the colour of secretion after rubbing with them nestlings’ gape, and (iii) gape and skin colourations correlated positively with that of secretion. Furthermore, we found that (iv) secretion colouration has a genetic component, and (v) associated positively with Vitamin-E supplementation and (vi) with plasma carotenoid concentration, which highlights the informative value of nestling secretion. Finally, (vii) colouration of begging related traits and of secretion of nestlings predicted parental feeding preferences. Consequently, all these results strongly suggest that the cosmetic use of coloured uropygial secretion might also play a role in parent-offspring communication, complementing or amplifying information provided by the flamboyant coloured gapes and skin of nestlings. The use of makeups by offspring to communicate with parents has been scarcely explored and we hope that these results will encourage further investigations in birds and some other taxa with parental care. Keywords: Antioxidants, Begging, Makeup hypothesis, Parent-offspring communication, Uropygium --