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Composition of bird nests is a species-specific characteristic

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Bird nests represent an extended phenotype of individuals expressed during reproduction and so exhibit variability in composition, structure and function. Descriptions of nests based on qualitative observations suggest that there is interspecific variation in size and composition but there are very few species in which this has been confirmed. For these species, data of the amounts of different materials indicate that nest construction behaviour is plastic and affected by a variety of factors, such as prevailing temperature, geographic location, and availability of materials. The lack of data on nest composition is hampering our understanding of how nests achieve their various functions and how different species solve the problem of building a nest that will accommodate incubation and allow successful hatching of eggs. This study deconstructed nests of four species of the Turdidae, four species of the Muscicapidae, and six species of the Fringillidae and quantified the size of the nests and their composition. These data were used to test: (1) whether nest size correlated with adult bird mass; (2) whether it was possible to distinguish between species on the basis of their nest composition; and (3) whether, within a species, it was possible to distinguish between the cup lining and the rest of the nest based on composition. Most but not all nest dimensions correlated with bird mass. Principal component analysis revealed species differences based on nest composition and discriminant analysis could distinguish cup lining from the outer nest based on material composition. Intraspecific variation in composition varied among species and in general fewer types of material were found in the cup lining than the outer nest. These data provide insight into how nests are constructed by the different species and in conjunction with studies of the mechanical, thermal and hydrological properties of a nest, will begin to reveal how and why individual species select particular combinations of materials to build a nest.
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Keywords: Fringillidae; Muscicapidae; Turdidae; bird nest; composition; dimensions

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Joseph Banks Laboratories, Lincoln LN6 7DL, UK

Publication date: 01 May 2018

This article was made available online on 17 April 2018 as a Fast Track article with title: "Composition of bird nests is a species-specific characteristic".

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  • Avian Biology Research provides a forum for the publication of research in every field of ornithology. It covers all aspects of pure and applied ornithology for wild or captive species as well as research that does not readily fit within the publication objectives of other ornithological journals. By considering a wide range of research fields for publication, Avian Biology Research provides a forum for people working in every field of ornithology. The journal also includes sections on avian news, conference diary and book reviews.

    Editor-in-Chief: Charles Deeming Editors: Tom Pike; Dale Sandercock; Claudia Wascher; Josh Firth; David Wilkinson; Jim Reynolds Production Editor: Claire Pike

    Cover image: Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra). Credit: jurra8/

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