Post-fledging behavioral ecology of migratory songbirds: How do fledgling activity rates vary across species?

Todd M. Jones, Michael P. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite a large literature on the ontogeny of animal behavior, our understanding of behavioral development in young songbirds remains relatively poor. This is particularly true for the post-fledging period, where it is often difficult to follow and observe small, freely moving fledglings for extended periods of time. Fortunately, technological advances have enabled more robust examinations of songbird post-fledging behaviors. To provide greater insight into fledgling developmental and behavioral ecology, we used automated radio-telemetry systems to document post-fledging activity rates of juveniles across 9 songbird species of east-central Illinois, USA. Specifically, we sought to examine differences in the ontogeny of activity rates across species, and compare activity rates to intrinsic (e.g. morphological traits, age) and extrinsic (e.g. predation risk, brood size) factors that have the potential to influence fledgling behavior. While post-fledging activity rates differed by species, our findings show remarkable similarities in the ontogeny of fledgling activity across the avian community; all species exhibited a steady increase in activity rates with post-fledging age, with rates leveling off roughly 3 to 4 weeks post-fledging. These general patterns mirrored rates of post-fledging mortality (primarily due to predation) across the period, including the presence or absence of a post-fledging bottleneck, in which species with bottlenecks exhibit slight declines in activity rates during the first few days out of the nest. Alongside fledgling age and mortality risk, our findings also suggest that juvenile wing development and brood size at fledging mediate fledgling activity rates within and across species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-342
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • activity rates
  • brood size
  • ontogeny
  • post-fledging
  • songbirds
  • wing development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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