The handicap principle suggests that ornamental traits that function as honest signals in mate selection must be costly to be effective. We evaluated in the sexually monochromatic yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) whether the carotenoid-derived plumage and eye coloration predicts parental quality and whether males and females within pairs mate assortatively in relation to these carotenoid-derived ornaments. In addition, we investigated whether age or body condition was related to the coloration of the ornamental traits. In yellow-eyed penguins, parental quality of males and females was predicted by eye and head plumage coloration. Even when we controlled for gender- and age-specific differences, eye and head plumage coloration reflected honestly parental quality. Males and females mated assortatively in relation to these ornamental traits. While age influenced coloration of both the eye and head plumage, body condition was related only to the saturation of plumage coloration. These results provide evidence that the carotenoid-derived ornaments in yellow-eyed penguins reflect the parental abilities of birds and, therefore, may be costly signals. Potentially, female and male yellow-eyed penguins could use eye and plumage coloration as an indirect cue in assessing age and quality of individual birds during mate choice. This is only the second study to examine plumage coloration in relation to sexual selection in penguins, while conspicuous ornamental traits in other species of penguin beg the question whether they also play a role in sexual selection.
Massaro, M., Davis, L. S., & Darby, J. T. (2003). Carotenoid-derived ornaments reflect parental quality in male and female yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 55(2), 169-175. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-003-0683-3