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Effect of variation in nestling hunger levels on the begging behaviour of nestlings and the provisioning behaviour of adult American Kestrels

Posted on 14. May, 2018.

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Little is known about how variation in nestling begging intensity influences the behaviour of adult raptors and how responses of adult males and females to such variation might differ. Our objective was to manipulate the begging intensity of nestling American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) and examine the responses of adults. 

We studied 12 pairs of American Kestrels nesting in nest boxes from 1 March to 1 July 2014 at the Blue Grass Army Depot, Madison County, Kentucky. Nest boxes were modified with a separate compartment for a camcorder to record nestling behaviour, and a second camcorder was placed outside the nests to monitor adult behaviour. To manipulate nestling hunger levels, 12 to 26-day-old nestlings in six nests were deprived of food for 24 h and those in the other six nests were fed until satiated. At each nest, we alternated control (no treatment) and treatment (fed or food deprived) days over a 4 day period to minimise the possible effect of nestling age on adult and nestling behaviour. Nestling begging intensity differed among treatments, with nestlings in food-deprived nests begging with greater intensity after food deprivation and those in fed-treatment nests begging with less intensity after being fed. Adult male and female American Kestrels provisioned nestlings at similar rates, with both sexes feeding nestlings at higher rates after food deprivation and at lower rates after fed treatments. Thus, the begging behaviour of nestling American Kestrels varied with hunger level, and adult American Kestrels responded by adjusting provisioning rates. Although the response of adults to nestling begging suggests that natural selection might favour ‘dishonest’ begging to obtain more food, the potential costs of ‘dishonest’ begging, such as attracting predators, reduced immunocompetence, and loss of indirect fitness benefits if such begging negatively impacts siblings and parents, may outweigh any possible benefit.

Read the full article in Avian Biology Research, Volume 11, Number 1, February 2018, pp. 35-43. 


DOI: https://doi.org/10.3184/175815617X15127411523971

Authors: Katheryn A. Watson and Gary Ritchison*
Department of Biological Sciences, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky 40475, USA
*E-mail: gary.ritchison@eku.edu

Keywords: Falco sparverius, food deprivation, satiation, begging intensity, video recording

Image: American Kestrel. Photo by Susan Drobniak, US Fish & Wildlife Service.