Birds use many different signaling modalities (e.g. vocalizations, displays) to transmit information about their motivation to defend valuable resources. A handful of taxa use "props", inedible objects scavenged from the environment, in signaling. Several species of motmots (Coraciiformes) hold a leaf in their bill in a display that observational evidence suggests is agonistic. We used a simulated intruder experiment to test this display's agonistic signaling function using data from both members of pairs of russet-crowned motmots (Momotus mexicanus). If the display is agonistic, we expected territory-holding pairs to respond more strongly toward taxidermic mounts displaying a leaf. Our results showed that resident pairs reacted differently to the leaf display depending on the intruder's sex. Display of a leaf by the intruder increased the closeness of the pairs' approach when the model was male, but increased the probability of the territorial defenders displaying a leaf themselves when the model was female. Pairs spent more time responding to male models regardless of leaf display. Our results suggest that the leaf display is an agonistic signal, that territory owners react differently to the leaf display depending on the sex of the intruder performing it, and that the participation of both sexes in territorial defense-which is common among tropical resident birds-extends to this unusual signaling modality.
Kiere, L. M., Murphy, T. G., García-Muñoz, A., & Osorio-Beristain, M. (2019). Ritualized display of a leaf: A putative agonistic signal in both sexes of a tropical bird. Behavioural Processes, 168, forthcoming. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2019.103954