Is reduced clutch size a cost of parental care in Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe)?

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What is the cost of parental care in birds? Previous studies using observational and experimental techniques on nest building and clutch sizes in a small migrant flycatcher, the Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), led to contradictory results that did not show a consistent cost of current reproductive effort on residual reproductive output. The data presented here indicate that different elements of parental behaviors are indeed costly because they reduce various aspects of phoebes' subsequent reproductive performance. Experimental removal of old nesting structures at previously used breeding sites reduced but did not eliminate the chance of phoebes' settlement in the subsequent year. Comparing sites at which phoebes did and did not build new nests showed that nest builders completed their first clutches later, had lower probabilities of second breeding attempts, and more often lost their nesting attempt due to fallen nest structures than nest reusers. There was, however, no significant effect of nest building on the clutch sizes and rates of cowbird parasitism of first nesting attempts. Overall, sites with newly built nests had lower seasonal reproductive effort than sites with reused nests. I also examined phoebes' relative residual reproductive output in a separate breeding season when nest building was not experimentally manipulated. When controlled for confounding variables this analysis indicated that in those phoebes that did breed for a second time, the relative decrease of the sizes of first to presumed second clutches was greater at sites where first breeding attempts consisted of more total nestlings. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that parental care is costly in Eastern Phoebes and support predictions of trade-offs between the nest building, brood care, and residual egg-investment components of reproduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)503-509
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 1 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Clutch size
  • Cost of reproduction
  • Maternal care
  • Molothrus ater parasitism
  • Nest building
  • Reuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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