Avian Incubation Patterns Reflect Temporal Changes in Developing Clutches

Caren B. Cooper, Margaret A. Voss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Incubation conditions for eggs influence offspring quality and reproductive success. One way in which parents regulate brooding conditions is by balancing the thermal requirements of embryos with time spent away from the nest for self-maintenance. Age related changes in embryo thermal tolerance would thus be expected to shape parental incubation behavior. We use data from unmanipulated Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) nests to examine the temporal dynamics of incubation, testing the prediction that increased heat flux from eggs as embryos age influences female incubation behavior and/or physiology to minimize temperature fluctuations. We found that the rate of heat loss from eggs increased with embryo age. Females responded to increased egg cooling rates by altering incubation rhythms (more frequent, shorter on- and off- bouts), but not brood patch temperature. Consequently, as embryos aged, females were able to increase mean egg temperature and decrease variation in temperature. Our findings highlight the need to view full incubation as more than a static rhythm; rather, it is a temporally dynamic and finely adjustable parental behavior. Furthermore, from a methodological perspective, intra- and inter-specific comparisons of incubation rhythms and average egg temperatures should control for the stage of incubation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere65521
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 19 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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