For House Sparrows, Passer domesticus, it has been proposed that the size of a male's throat badge correlates with his success in avoiding cuckoldry as well as obtaining extra-pair copulations (EPCs), and that females gain indirect (genetic) benefits from EPCs with large-badged males. Alternatively, female House Sparrows may engage in EPCs as a guard against their social mate's infertility. We used multi-locus DNA fingerprinting to examine paternity and found that among 41 broods and 136 offspring, 20% of the offspring were attributable to extra-pair fertilizations (EPFs). Forty-one percent of the 34 males were cuckolded; however, large-badged males were as likely to be cuckolded as small-badged males. Moreover, we found no evidence that large-badged males were inherently superior to small-badged males in terms of survivorship. We compared the prevalence of unhatched eggs in broods with and without extra-pair offspring to determine whether EPFs are associated with hatching failure. Although we detected no association between hatch failure and EPFs, enhanced fertility remains a plausible EPC benefit to females, but experimental approaches may be required to evaluate its significance.
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Vol. 102 • No. 2