Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Nocturnal incubation recess and flushing behavior by duck hens

May 1, 2021

Incubating birds must balance the needs of their developing embryos with their own physiological needs, and many birds accomplish this by taking periodic breaks from incubation. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and gadwall (Mareca strepera) hens typically take incubation recesses in the early morning and late afternoon, but recesses can also take place at night. We examined nocturnal incubation recess behavior for mallard and gadwall hens nesting in Suisun Marsh, California, USA, using iButton temperature dataloggers and continuous video monitoring at nests. Fourteen percent of all detected incubation recesses (N = 13,708) were nocturnal and took place on 20% of nest‐days (N = 8,668). Video monitoring showed that hens covered their eggs with down feathers when they initiated a nocturnal recess themselves as they would a diurnal recess, but they left the eggs uncovered in 94% of the nocturnal recesses in which predators appeared at nests. Thus, determining whether or not eggs were left uncovered during a recess can provide strong indication whether the recess was initiated by the hen (eggs covered) or a predator (eggs uncovered). Because nest temperature decreased more rapidly when eggs were left uncovered versus covered, we were able to characterize eggs during nocturnal incubation recesses as covered or uncovered using nest temperature data. Overall, we predicted that 75% of nocturnal recesses were hen‐initiated recesses (eggs covered) whereas 25% of nocturnal recesses were predator‐initiated recesses (eggs uncovered). Of the predator‐initiated nocturnal recesses, 56% were accompanied by evidence of depredation at the nest during the subsequent nest monitoring visit. Hen‐initiated nocturnal recesses began later in the night (closer to morning) and were shorter than predator‐initiated nocturnal recesses. Our results indicate that nocturnal incubation recesses occur regularly (14% of all recesses) and, similar to diurnal recesses, most nocturnal recesses (75%) are initiated by the hen rather than an approaching predator.

Publication Year 2021
Title Nocturnal incubation recess and flushing behavior by duck hens
DOI 10.1002/ece3.7561
Authors Rebecca Croston, Sarah H. Peterson, C. Alex Hartman, Mark P. Herzog, Cliff L. Feldheim, Michael L. Casazza, Josh T. Ackerman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70220548
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center