Song predicts immunocompetence in male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)

Deborah L. Duffy, Gregory F. Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to the immunocompetence handicap hypothesis, sexually selected characteristics predict immune function and this relationship is mediated by testosterone. In the present study, we investigated whether bird song could predict immunity in European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). We recorded the singing and reproductive behaviours of 16 adult male starlings in an outdoor aviary and then assessed their cell-mediated and humoral immunity in vivo. The males were observed in groups of four for 2 h each day over a 4-day period. For each male, the number of songs produced was recorded and the average song-bout length was computed. Next, cell-mediated and humoral immunity were assessed via cutaneous swelling responses to the T-cell mitogen phytohaemagglutinin and antibody responses to a novel antigen, keyhole limpet haemocyanin. Song rate and song-bout length were positively correlated with cell-mediated and humoral immunity, respectively. Additionally, a negative relationship between plasma testosterone concentration and antibody response was observed. These data demonstrate that male starling song can be used as a predictor of immunocompetence, with more robust singers exhibiting enhanced immunity. Whether this relationship is mediated directly by testosterone requires further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)847-852
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1493
StatePublished - Apr 22 2002


  • Bird
  • Immunocompetence
  • Sexual selection
  • Song
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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