Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 69, Issue 10, pp 1631–1638 | Cite as

Hierarchical analysis of avian re-nesting behavior: mean, across-individual, and intra-individual responses

  • Christa BeckmannEmail author
  • Peter A. Biro
  • Kathy Martin
Original Article


Anti-predator behavior is a key aspect of life history evolution, usually studied at the population (mean), or across-individual levels. However individuals can also differ in their intra-individual (residual) variation, but to our knowledge, this has only been studied once before in free-living animals. Here we studied the distances moved and changes in nest height and concealment between successive nesting attempts of marked pairs of grey fantails (Rhipidura albiscapa) in relation to nest fate, across the breeding season. We predicted that females (gender that decides where the nest is placed) should on average show adaptive behavioral responses to the experience of prior predation risk such that after an unsuccessful nesting attempt, replacement nests should be further away, higher from the ground, and more concealed compared with replacement nests after successful nesting attempts. We found that, on average, females moved greater distances to re-nest after unsuccessful nesting attempts (abandoned or depredated) in contrast to after a successful attempt, suggesting that re-nesting decisions are sensitive to risk. We found no consistent across-individual differences in distances moved, heights, or concealment. However, females differed by 53-fold (or more) in their intra-individual variability (i.e., predictability) with respect to distances moved and changes in nest height between nesting attempts, indicating that either some systematic variation went unexplained and/or females have inherently different predictability. Ignoring these individual differences in residual variance in our models obscured the effect of nest fate on re-nesting decisions that were evident at the mean level.


Nest desertion Nest depredation Nest site selection Personality Renest Plasticity 



This work was supported by an Alfred Deakin Research Postdoctoral Fellowship to CB, an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to PB, and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada research grant to KM. J Hightower and C Jordan helped with field work. We thank the rangers at Mt. Buffalo National Park for logistical support.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

265_2015_1974_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (97 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 97 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christa Beckmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter A. Biro
    • 1
  • Kathy Martin
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental SciencesDeakin UniversityGeelongAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Applied Conservation Research, Faculty of ForestryUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Environment CanadaDeltaCanada

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