Main content area

Experimental evidence of non-random nest material selection in pied flycatchers

Briggs, Kevin B., Mainwaring, Mark C.
Behavioural processes 2019 v.164 pp. 59-64
Ficedula hypoleuca, deer, eggs, feathers, females, habitats, nests, parents, progeny, wild birds, woodlands, wool
Nest building is a taxonomically widespread behaviour that consists of the construction of a suitable receptacle with collected materials for the incubation of eggs and sometimes for the raising of offspring. The use of specific nest materials has important fitness consequences for avian parents and offspring because they help to determine the thermal, parasitic and bacterial environment within nests and may also influence parental investment via intraspecific signalling. However, we presently know very little about the process by which nest materials are selected from the wider environment and specifically, it is unclear whether wild birds randomly or non-randomly select nest materials in relation to their local availability. Here, we report an experiment in which we provided experimental pairs of pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) with wool, feathers and deer hair – commonly used nest materials found in their woodland habitats – close to their nests during the nest building period whilst control pairs were not provided with any materials. We found that females at experimental nests showed very clear preferences for deer hair, whilst almost completely avoiding the wool and feathers, thereby demonstrating that females exhibited very strong preferences for certain nest materials but not others. We therefore conclude that birds select nest materials in a non-random manner and do not simply use the materials most commonly available to them.