Female begging calls reflect nutritional need of nestlings in the hen harrier Circus cyaneus

Steve Redpath, Alex Thompson, Arjun Amar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Background
Most birds exhibit bi-parental care with both sexes providing food for their young. Nestling signal food needs through begging. However, for some species, males rarely visit the nest, so have limited opportunity for gaining information directly from the chicks. Instead, females beg when males deliver food. We tested whether this calling signalled nutritional need and specifically the needs of the female (Breeder Need hypothesis) or that of their chicks (Offspring Need hypothesis).

Results
We observed begging and provisioning rates at 42 nests of hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) in Scotland, explored the factors associated with variation in begging rate and the relationship between begging and provisioning. We also tested the impact of food on begging and provisioning through a feeding experiment. Female begging rate increased up to a chick age of 3 weeks and then tailed off. In addition, begging increased when broods were large.

Conclusions
Our data provided support for the Offspring Need hypothesis. At nests where adlib food was provided females reduced their begging rate. These patterns suggested that female begging was an honest signal of need. However, begging continued even with adlib food and was only weakly associated with greater provisioning by males, suggesting that these calls may also play an additional role, possibly reflecting sexual or parent-offspring conflict.
Original languageEnglish
Article number144
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Volume17
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2017

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Circus
nestling
hens
food
chicks
nests
nest
Scotland
parental care
nestlings
need
gender
birds
bird
rate

Keywords

  • Begging behaviour
  • Nestlings
  • Provisioning behaviour
  • Breeder need
  • Offspring need
  • Raptors
  • Hen harrier
  • Sexual conflict

Cite this

Female begging calls reflect nutritional need of nestlings in the hen harrier Circus cyaneus. / Redpath, Steve; Thompson, Alex; Amar, Arjun.

In: BMC Evolutionary Biology, Vol. 17, 144, 19.06.2017, p. 1-8.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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title = "Female begging calls reflect nutritional need of nestlings in the hen harrier Circus cyaneus",
abstract = "BackgroundMost birds exhibit bi-parental care with both sexes providing food for their young. Nestling signal food needs through begging. However, for some species, males rarely visit the nest, so have limited opportunity for gaining information directly from the chicks. Instead, females beg when males deliver food. We tested whether this calling signalled nutritional need and specifically the needs of the female (Breeder Need hypothesis) or that of their chicks (Offspring Need hypothesis).ResultsWe observed begging and provisioning rates at 42 nests of hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) in Scotland, explored the factors associated with variation in begging rate and the relationship between begging and provisioning. We also tested the impact of food on begging and provisioning through a feeding experiment. Female begging rate increased up to a chick age of 3 weeks and then tailed off. In addition, begging increased when broods were large.ConclusionsOur data provided support for the Offspring Need hypothesis. At nests where adlib food was provided females reduced their begging rate. These patterns suggested that female begging was an honest signal of need. However, begging continued even with adlib food and was only weakly associated with greater provisioning by males, suggesting that these calls may also play an additional role, possibly reflecting sexual or parent-offspring conflict.",
keywords = "Begging behaviour, Nestlings, Provisioning behaviour, Breeder need, Offspring need, Raptors, Hen harrier, Sexual conflict",
author = "Steve Redpath and Alex Thompson and Arjun Amar",
note = "Acknowledgements We thank the Buccleuch Estates for allowing us to work on their estate and L. Bellini, K. Bouwmann, G. Buchanan, S. Campbell, C. Cronin, E. Donnelly, F. Leckie, C. Gall, C. Hill, P. Lindley, K. Lock, M. Mainwairing, J. Martinez, R. May, D. Parish, A. Smith, A. Tharme and A. Walton for field assistance. The study was funded by Buccleuch Estates, Westerhall Estates, The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Scottish Natural Heritage. S.R. is grateful for the King Carl XVI Gustaf guest professorship that allowed him to write this paper. None of the authors have any competing interests. We are grateful for 3 anonymous referees for their excellent, constructive comments via Peerage of Science. Funding Research funded by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.",
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AU - Thompson, Alex

AU - Amar, Arjun

N1 - Acknowledgements We thank the Buccleuch Estates for allowing us to work on their estate and L. Bellini, K. Bouwmann, G. Buchanan, S. Campbell, C. Cronin, E. Donnelly, F. Leckie, C. Gall, C. Hill, P. Lindley, K. Lock, M. Mainwairing, J. Martinez, R. May, D. Parish, A. Smith, A. Tharme and A. Walton for field assistance. The study was funded by Buccleuch Estates, Westerhall Estates, The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Scottish Natural Heritage. S.R. is grateful for the King Carl XVI Gustaf guest professorship that allowed him to write this paper. None of the authors have any competing interests. We are grateful for 3 anonymous referees for their excellent, constructive comments via Peerage of Science. Funding Research funded by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

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N2 - BackgroundMost birds exhibit bi-parental care with both sexes providing food for their young. Nestling signal food needs through begging. However, for some species, males rarely visit the nest, so have limited opportunity for gaining information directly from the chicks. Instead, females beg when males deliver food. We tested whether this calling signalled nutritional need and specifically the needs of the female (Breeder Need hypothesis) or that of their chicks (Offspring Need hypothesis).ResultsWe observed begging and provisioning rates at 42 nests of hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) in Scotland, explored the factors associated with variation in begging rate and the relationship between begging and provisioning. We also tested the impact of food on begging and provisioning through a feeding experiment. Female begging rate increased up to a chick age of 3 weeks and then tailed off. In addition, begging increased when broods were large.ConclusionsOur data provided support for the Offspring Need hypothesis. At nests where adlib food was provided females reduced their begging rate. These patterns suggested that female begging was an honest signal of need. However, begging continued even with adlib food and was only weakly associated with greater provisioning by males, suggesting that these calls may also play an additional role, possibly reflecting sexual or parent-offspring conflict.

AB - BackgroundMost birds exhibit bi-parental care with both sexes providing food for their young. Nestling signal food needs through begging. However, for some species, males rarely visit the nest, so have limited opportunity for gaining information directly from the chicks. Instead, females beg when males deliver food. We tested whether this calling signalled nutritional need and specifically the needs of the female (Breeder Need hypothesis) or that of their chicks (Offspring Need hypothesis).ResultsWe observed begging and provisioning rates at 42 nests of hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) in Scotland, explored the factors associated with variation in begging rate and the relationship between begging and provisioning. We also tested the impact of food on begging and provisioning through a feeding experiment. Female begging rate increased up to a chick age of 3 weeks and then tailed off. In addition, begging increased when broods were large.ConclusionsOur data provided support for the Offspring Need hypothesis. At nests where adlib food was provided females reduced their begging rate. These patterns suggested that female begging was an honest signal of need. However, begging continued even with adlib food and was only weakly associated with greater provisioning by males, suggesting that these calls may also play an additional role, possibly reflecting sexual or parent-offspring conflict.

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KW - Offspring need

KW - Raptors

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KW - Sexual conflict

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