Several studies have shown that hybridization can be a creative process by acting as a conduit for the spread of adaptive traits between species, but few provide the mechanism that favours this spread. In the hybrid zone between the golden- (Manacus vitellinus) and white-collared (Manacus candei) manakins, sexual selection drives the introgression of golden/yellow plumage into the white species; however, the mechanism for the yellow male's mating advantage and the reasons why yellow plumage has not swept further into the white species remain mostly speculative. We quantified the colour properties of male plumage, the background and the ambient light at the hybrid zone, and allopatric golden and white populations. As measured by the perceived difference in colour between plumage and background, we found that yellow plumage appears more conspicuous than white plumage in the hybrid zone and allopatric golden-collar habitats, whereas white plumage appears more conspicuous than yellow plumage in the allopatric white-collared habitat. These results suggest a mechanism for the unidirectional spread of yellow plumage across the hybrid zone but slowed movement beyond it.