The role of development, parental behavior, and nestmate competition in fledging of nestling Tree Swallows
Leonard, Marty L.
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Fledging (i.e. leaving the nest) in altricial birds is a major step toward independence. The timing of this important event may be influenced by nestling development, parental behavior, and sibling interactions. In this study we examine the effect of these factors on fledging in Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). Wing length explained a significant proportion of the variance in fledging age across broods. Similarly, within broods, longer-winged nestlings fledged before shorter-winged nestlings. Feeding rate per nestling did not decrease in the period leading up to fledging, as might be expected if parents stimulated fledging by decreasing their feeding rate. Parental activity near the nest varied in that the frequency of parental passes and hovers within 1 m of the nest opening increased in the period before fledging. Brood size also explained a significant proportion of the variance in fledging age independent of wing length, although the direction of the relationship was not consistent across years. Finally, longer-winged nestlings spent more time in the nest opening and initiated fledging of the brood more often than did shorter-winged nestlings. Overall, our study suggests that nestling development is the most important determinant of fledging age in this species. Once a critical wing length has been reached, sibling interactions, and possibly parental behavior, may influence the timing of fledging.
Michaud, T., and M. Leonard. 2000. "The role of development, parental behavior, and nestmate competition in fledging of nestling Tree Swallows." Auk 117(4): 996-1002.