The preference of female blue tits, Parus caeruleus, is correlated with the brightness of the ultraviolet (UV) crest; there is also assortative mating with respect to the crest's UV/violet chroma. However, manipulation of plumage reflectance is necessary to infer a direct causal link between UV plumage and mate choice. We gave both male and female blue tits a choice between a W-reflecting ('UV+') partner and a partner whose UV plumage reflectance had been removed ('UV-'). Male blue tits significantly preferred UV+ females. Similarly, female blue tits tended to prefer UV-reflecting males, but their UV+ preferences were nonsignificant. Neither sex showed a preference when conspecifics were replaced by a heterospecific. This study suggests mutual mate choice but male choice may be more strongly influenced by the visual appearance of potential mates. This is one of a few studies to show male mate preferences and the first demonstration of a direct relationship between UV reflectance and;male mate choice. (C) 1999 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.