White Ibis integument color during the breeding season


Many birds undergo bare part color changes during the breeding season. Most investigators have focused on color as a signal of individual quality. An alternative, but not exclusive, function of bare part color may be signaling readiness to breed, especially in colonial, asynchronous breeders. White Ibises (Eudocimus albus) are colonial waterbirds that show vivid bare part colors on their bills and legs during reproduction. We quantified bill and leg colors to describe color changes and their possible relationship to reproductive status during the breeding season of White Ibises in the Florida Everglades from 1998 to 2001. We also examined the correlation between bare part colors and circulating concentrations of sex steroids to understand the factors that regulate bare part colors. During the display stage, male and female ibises developed dark pink bills and scarlet legs. As the breeding season progressed, bills and legs faded and developed a muted pink hue. The bare part colors of female ibises were correlated with testosterone concentrations, but those of male ibises were not correlated with any hormones. A discriminant function analysis based on principal component scores (representing variation in saturation and hue) and the amount of black on the bill successfully classified ibis reproductive stage 94% of the time. The use of bare part colors to determine reproductive status may be useful for studying reproduction in colonially nesting birds, where access to breeding sites can be difficult and potential for researcher disturbance is high.

Journal of Field Ornithology