An observation of parental infanticide in Dickcissels (Spiza americana): Video evidence and potential mechanisms

Jaime J. Coon, Scott B. Nelson, Amy C. West, Iris A. Bradley, James R. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Brood reduction by parents via infanticide is considered rare in passerine birds; however, this behavior may be underreported because of the difficulties observing behaviors at the nest and because researchers tend to attribute partial nestling loss to other causes. Here, we report a confirmed incidence of parental infanticide by Dickcissels (Spiza americana). While video-recording parental behavior, we documented a 4-day-old nestling being removed by a female Dickcissel. This bird was also observed brooding and feeding, so this event was likely a parental infanticide. We subsequently examined monitoring data from 162 hatched Dickcissel nests across 2 breeding seasons to identify instances of unexplained partial nestling loss, which could potentially be attributable to infanticide. Our data indicate that 9.1-12.7% of hatched nests experienced these events. Infanticide by genetic parents could (1) benefit survival of remaining brood mates by reducing food requirements, disease, or predation risk; (2) represent responses to cuckoldry or intraspecific brood parasitism; (3) represent cases of mistaken chick identity; or (4) be triggered by unusual stressors. We recommend that ecologists monitoring bird nests consider infanticide as a possible explanation for partial nestling loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-345
Number of pages5
JournalWilson Journal of Ornithology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Brood reduction
  • Dickcissel
  • Infanticide
  • Nest monitoring
  • Partial nestling loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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