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Nest attendance, incubation constancy, and onset of incubation in dabbling ducks

May 19, 2023

In birds, parents must provide their eggs with a safe thermal environment suitable for embryonic development. Species with uniparental incubation must balance time spent incubating eggs with time spent away from the nest to satisfy self-maintenance needs. Patterns of nest attendance, therefore, influence embryonic development and the time it takes for eggs to hatch. We studied nest attendance (time on the nest), incubation constancy (time nests were at incubation temperatures), and variation in nest temperature of 1,414 dabbling duck nests of three species in northern California. Daily nest attendance increased from only 1–3% on the day the first egg was laid to 51–57% on the day of clutch completion, and 80–83% after clutch completion through hatch. Variation in nest temperature also decreased gradually during egg-laying, and then dropped sharply (33–38%) between the day of and the day after clutch completion because increased nest attendance, particularly at night, resulted in more consistent nest temperatures. During the egg-laying stage, nocturnal nest attendance was low (13–25%), whereas after clutch completion, nest attendance was greater at night (≥87%) than during the day (70–77%) because most incubation recesses occurred during the day. Moreover, during egg-laying, nest attendance and incubation constancy increased more slowly among nests with larger final clutch sizes, suggesting that the number of eggs remaining to be laid is a major driver of incubation effort during egg-laying. Although overall nest attendance after clutch completion was similar among species, the average length of individual incubation bouts was greatest among gadwall (Mareca strepera; 779 minutes), followed by mallard (Anas platyrhynchos; 636 minutes) and then cinnamon teal (Spatula cyanoptera; 347 minutes). These results demonstrate that dabbling ducks moderate their incubation behavior according to nest stage, nest age, time of day, and clutch size and this moderation likely has important implications for egg development and overall nest success.

Publication Year 2023
Title Nest attendance, incubation constancy, and onset of incubation in dabbling ducks
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0286151
Authors C. Alex Hartman, Josh T. Ackerman, Sarah H. Peterson, Brady Lynn Fettig, Michael L. Casazza, Mark P. Herzog
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70243845
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center