Facultative adjustment of pre-fledging mass recession by nestling chimney swifts Chaetura pelagica

Sagan Goodpaster, Gary Ritchison

Published online: 
24 March 2014

In species susceptible to mass-dependent flight costs, mass recession prior to fledging may ensure that fledglings have appropriate wing loading. Our objectives were to determine if mass recession by chimney swift Chaetura pelagica nestlings is intrinsically controlled or facultatively adjusted by nestlings, and if mass recession is driven by changes in parental (i.e. reduced provisioning rates) or nestling (i.e. reduced begging) behavior. Nestling swifts (n = 50 in 17 broods) were divided into three treatment groups: controls, half-weighted, or weighted. Half-weighted and weighted nestlings had 0.6–0.7 or 1.2–1.3-g lead weights, respectively, glued to body feathers on their backs during the period from 16 to 26 d post-hatching. Weighted nestlings lost more mass than control and half-weighted nestlings. After accounting for the added weights, control nestlings also had a higher wing loading than weighted nestlings. Video recordings revealed that provisioning rates of adult swifts did not vary throughout the nestling period, but the percent time nestlings spent begging increased slightly with age. Differences in mass recession among nestlings in different treatment groups resulted in convergence toward similar wing loading values likely optimal for flight efficiency. Mechanism(s) involved in this process remain unclear because provisioning rates were similar (from day 12 to 26 post-hatching) whereas percent begging time by nestlings tended to increase with nestling age. However, weighted nestlings may have lost more mass than control nestlings by soliciting less food from adults than siblings, being more active, losing more water due to tissue maturation, or through some combination of two or more of these factors.