A demonstration of adaptive mate choice by females in resource-defence mating systems requires clear predictions as to how females should rank "breeding situations" (defined by the quality of both the resident male and the territory he defends) so as to maximize their fitness. Since male quality is only weakly correlated with territory quality in red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), ranking breeding situations in this species will require a consideration of both those parameters independently of each other as long as both vary among males, are predictable before mating, and affect female fitness. Data from a two year study of an eastern Ontario population of this species suggested that two components of male parental quality, nest defence effort and provisioning of nestlings with food, both varied among males and were somewhat predictable. Two measures of nest defence effort were correlated with an index of epaulet size (a reliable predictor of captive dominance rank in this species) (Table 5), and provisioning appeared to be predictable on the basis of both courtship behavior and breeding experience. Our data also suggest that these two components of male parental quality do not covary. Since male provisioning tends to be restricted to the nestlings of the primary and secondary mates in this species, breeding situations must be ranked not only with respect to their manifold quality but also with respect to the mating status of individual females.
We studied male red-winged blackbirds defending territories along roadsides in eastern Ontario, Canada during the breeding seasons of 1984 and 1985. All sites were within a 20 km radius of the Queen's University Biological Station, located 40 km north of Kingston.