Nest defence by song sparrows: methodological and life history considerations

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Several aspects of nest defence behavior were investigated in song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) in eastern Ontario. Two independent tests were made of the hypothesis that the increase in nest defence observed through a nesting attempt is due to the birds becoming familiar with the nest threat, rather than because the nest contents increase in value to the parents. Neither test supported the hypothesis. As predicted by life history theory for species with age-independent mortality, males did not defend their nest more vigorously as they become older. Parents defended their nests less vigorously through the breeding season, contrary to the expected pattern of increased nest defence in response to declining renesting potential. This result may be attributable to a decline in offspring value through the breeding season. Nest defence behavior of mated individuals was positively correlated, independent of factors such as offspring age, renesting potential and brood size. From this result it is proposed that a source of variation in nest defence behavior may be individuals basing their own response on their mate's response in a positive feedback fashion. Males defended nests less vigorously than females, consistent with the expectation that males have lower certainty of parentage in the offspring. It is proposed that variation in paternal uncertainty could contribute to the unexplained variation reported in nest defence studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-136
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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