Night-brooding behaviour in provisioning cavity-nesting birds is a trade-off between adult predation risk and nestling thermoregulation needs

Authors

Keywords:

European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, GPS-tags, homeothermy, video-surveillance

Abstract

Night-brooding of nestlings in cavity-nesting avian species carries predation risks to parents. Anecdotally, several species are known to shift from constant adult night-brooding behaviour to leaving nestlings unattended at night during offspring development but the timing, speed of change and sex-specific differences between parents, and the factors shaping this behaviour have rarely been described. Moreover, the location and nature of night roosts used by adults whilst provisioning nestlings has received little research attention. We studied breeding Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris and hypothesised that, in such a cavity-nesting species, 1) nestlings would only be night-brooded until they achieved thermal independence, 2) since the species is frequently polygynous, female parents would most likely exclusively night-brood offspring despite provisioning by both sexes and 3) night-brooding would be more likely during nights with lowest temperatures. Nightly video recordings throughout the nestling phase at eight Starling nests together with data from 18 Starlings fitted with GPS-loggers during 26 nights provided support for hypotheses 1) and 2), while we found no support for hypothesis 3). All tagged male Starlings always roosted far from the nesting site (up to 8 km) independent of nestling age; all females brooded nestlings, usually up to the first seven-nine days after hatching (when the nestlings achieve thermoregulation), but roosted with males after day 10, when all tagged Starlings from the same nesting ‘colony’ roosted together. These results confirm differential sex-related parental effort in provisioning Starlings, suggesting females only night-brood until young achieve homeothermy.

Section
Research articles

Published

2022-05-20 — Updated on 2022-06-26

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How to Cite

Heldbjerg, H., Fox, A. D., Balsby, T. J. S. ., & Thellesen, P. V. (2022). Night-brooding behaviour in provisioning cavity-nesting birds is a trade-off between adult predation risk and nestling thermoregulation needs. Ornis Fennica, 99(1), 26–36. https://doi.org/10.51812/of.117871 (Original work published May 20, 2022)