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Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title

EFFECTS OF NEST BUILDING BEHAVIOR ON INCUBATION AND REPRODUCTIVE SUCCESS IN CAROLINA CHICKADEES POECILE CAROLINENSIS

Abstract

Nest building is a vital part of parental care, but the impacts of the variation in nest building behavior on reproductive success in birds is not well understood. We address the effects of nest quality on incubation behavior and reproductive success in Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) females. In Carolina chickadees, only females build nests, incubate eggs, and brood young nestlings. Well-constructed nests can reduce the negative effects of cooling on eggs and nestlings. Extensive cooling can result in delayed embryonic development, hatching asynchrony, or hatching failure. Very young nestlings also depend on brooding for proper thermoregulation. However, females face tradeoffs between self-maintenance and incubation. We test the hypothesis that investment in high quality nests will result in higher reproductive success. Throughout spring and summer 2016, we monitored nest boxes in Jackson and Macon counties, N.C. for reproductive activity. For completed nests, we recorded nest dimensions and installed two ibuttons (thermal data logger) inside each nest box to record nest and ambient temperatures. Comparisons between changes in nest temperature relative to ambient temperature allow us to estimate the time females spent incubating. Nestlings were weighed every-other-day between days 2- 12 and monitored for evidence of fledging. We will use growth rates of nestlings and fledging success as estimates of reproductive success. Faster growth rates indicate higher probability of post fledging success. Upon fledging, all nests were collected and air dried. Nest quality is estimated by dry mass and dimensions. We predict that higher quality nests require shorter periods of incubation but yield higher reproductive success.

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