Effects of nest quality on incubation and reproductive success in Carolina chickadees (Poecile Carolinensis)

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Traci Erin Ballance (Creator)
Institution
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site: http://library.wcu.edu/
Advisor
Jeremy Hyman

Abstract: The effects of parental care on reproductive success is well studied. Nest building is an important aspect of parental care in birds, but it is not well understood how variation in nest building behavior impacts their reproductive success. In this study, I address the effects of nest dimensions on incubation behavior and reproductive success in female Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis). In Carolina chickadees, only females build nests, incubate eggs, and brood young nestlings. Larger, well-constructed nests can reduce the negative effects of cooling on eggs and nestlings as extensive cooling can result in delayed embryonic development, hatching asynchrony, or failure to hatch. However, larger nests are more energetically demanding for females to construct. Females therefore face tradeoffs between self-maintenance and incubation. In this study, I tested my hypothesis that nest quality would change incubation behavior and that investment in high quality nests would result in higher reproductive success in Carolina chickadees, a common breeding bird in western North Carolina. Throughout spring and summer 2016, I monitored nest boxes in Jackson and Macon counties, N.C. for reproductive activity. I quantified nest height, nest cup depth, and the amount of moss underneath the nest cup as nest dimensions. Incubation periods (on-bouts and off-bouts) were measured using iButtons (thermal data loggers) located both inside the nest cup and inside the nest box that collected nest temperature and ambient temperature every 5 minutes. Incubation behavior was quantified as total off-bout time and mean off-bout time. Reproductive success was quantified as the number of nestlings that fledged from individual nest boxes. I found statistically significant relationships between nest dimensions and reproductive success as well as non- statistically significant relationships between nest dimensions and incubation behavior. Together, my results suggest that females that invest in building high quality nests benefit by fledging more young and that females that build poor quality nests do not compensate by increasing incubation behavior.

Additional Information

Publication
Thesis
Language: English
Date: 2018
Keywords
Carolina chickadee, iButtons, incubation behavior, nest quality, nest thermal properties, reproductive success

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