Parental benefits and offspring costs reflect parent-offspring conflict over the age of fledging among songbirds

Todd M Jones, Jeffrey D Brawn, Ian J Ausprey, Andrew C Vitz, Amanda D Rodewald, Douglas W Raybuck, Than J Boves, Cameron J Fiss, Darin J McNeil, Scott H Stoleson, Jeffery L Larkin, W Andrew Cox, Amy C Schwarzer, Noah P Horsley, Evalynn M Trumbo, Michael P Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parent-offspring conflict has explained a variety of ecological phenomena across animal taxa, but its role in mediating when songbirds fledge remains controversial. Specifically, ecologists have long debated the influence of songbird parents on the age of fledging: Do parents manipulate offspring into fledging to optimize their own fitness or do offspring choose when to leave? To provide greater insight into parent-offspring conflict over fledging age in songbirds, we compared nesting and postfledging survival rates across 18 species from eight studies in the continental United States. For 12 species (67%), we found that fledging transitions offspring from comparatively safe nesting environments to more dangerous postfledging ones, resulting in a postfledging bottleneck. This raises an important question: as past research shows that offspring would benefit-improve postfledging survival-by staying in the nest longer: Why then do they fledge so early? Our findings suggest that parents manipulate offspring into fledging early for their own benefit, but at the cost of survival for each individual offspring, reflecting parent-offspring conflict. Early fledging incurred, on average, a 13.6% postfledging survival cost for each individual offspring, but parents benefitted through a 14.0% increase in the likelihood of raising at least one offspring to independence. These parental benefits were uneven across species-driven by an interaction between nest mortality risk and brood size-and predicted the age of fledging among species. Collectively, our results suggest that parent-offspring conflict and associated parental benefits explain variation in fledging age among songbird species and why postfledging bottlenecks occur.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)30539-30546
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number48
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Bottleneck | fledging | parent–offspring conflict | postfledging | songbirds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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