We examined two components of reproduction in a population of golden-winged warblers in the initial stages of hybridization with blue-winged warblers. First, we used genetic analyses of mate choice to determine whether copulations outside the social pairbond (extra-pair copulations; EPCs) occur in these species and their hybrids. Second, we compared several aspects of reproduction (pairing success, clutch size, hatching success, fledging success, and loss of paternity) in nests raised by phenotypic golden-winged warblers to those raised by hybrid individuals. Together, these data provide us with the first quantitative analysis of reproduction within this hybrid system. Our data suggest several reasons why the level of hybridization between these species is likely being underestimated. First, many birds in our population showed only subtle phenotypic signs of introgression indicating that hybrid status can only be determined by close examination. Second, high rates of extra-pair paternity indicate that we cannot base our estimates of hybridization on pairbond data alone. More than 30% of nestlings were the result of EPCs, occurring in 55% of all nests. Third, there was no difference in the number of hybrid or “pure” golden-winged warbler males chosen as social mates, relative to their abundance. Indeed, based on several components of nesting success, it appears as though hybrids are having as great realized reproductive success as are phenotypic golden-winged warblers in our population. Accordingly, we argue that hybrid reproductive success and extra-pair fertilizations are likely playing a major role in the ongoing hybridization between blue-winged and golden-winged warblers. Studies such as this one are important to our understanding of the process and implications of hybridization, and findings may be applicable to other hybrid zones.
All captured adults had blood samples taken