The effect of parental quality and malaria infection on nestling performance in the Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis).
Plumage ornamentation often signals the quality of males and, therefore, female birds may choose elaborately ornamented mates to increase their fitness. Such mate choice may confer both direct and indirect benefits to the offspring. Males with elaborate ornaments may provide good genes, which can result in better nestling growth, survival or resistance against parasitic infections. However, these males may also provision their offspring with more food or food of better quality, resulting in nestlings growing at a higher rate or fledging in better condition. In this study, we examined if there was an association between male ornamentation and malaria infection in Collared Flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis). We also investigated offspring performance in relation to malaria infection in the parents and the quality of the genetic and rearing fathers (assessed by the size of two secondary sexual characters) under simulated good and bad conditions (using brood size manipulation). We found that secondary sexual characters did not signal the ability of males to avoid parasitic infections, and malaria infection in the genetic and the rearing parents had no effect on nestling growth and fledging size. Our results do show, however, that it may be beneficial for the females to mate with males with a large forehead patch because wing feathers of nestlings reared by large-patched males grew at a higher rate. Fast feather growth can result in earlier fledging which, in turn, could improve nestling survival in highly variable environments or under strong nest predation.