Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 153, Issue 1, pp 35–52 | Cite as

Nest sanitation in passerine birds: implications for egg rejection in hosts of brood parasites

  • Mélanie F. Guigueno
  • Spencer G. Sealy


We reviewed information on nest sanitation (nest cleaning) by passerine birds because the act of cleaning nests is thought to be associated with egg rejection by hosts of brood parasites, and yet there has been no synthesis of the literature on nest sanitation. In the first part of the review, we summarized information on nest sanitation. We found that birds remove a variety of objects from nests such as egg shells, fecal sacs, pieces of vegetation, invertebrate parasites, dead chicks, uneaten food, and occasionally unhatched eggs. Fecal sac removal, the most commonly considered type of nest sanitation behavior, is not divided equally between the sexes across species; females remove more fecal sacs than males. In addition, larger species tend to carry fecal sacs farther than smaller species. In the second part of the review, we discuss the importance of nest sanitation in the evolution of egg rejection behavior of brood parasite hosts. Recent studies involving the experimental addition of non-egg-shaped objects to nests or to the vicinity of nests suggest that nest sanitation plays a role in host rejection of avian brood parasitism. Most objects added to nests prior to hatching (usually hard) and after hatching (usually soft) were rejected. In a logistic regression model, shape and size were the significant factors in eliciting rejection for all hosts that received experimental non-egg objects added to their nests prior to hatching. Nest sanitation may be an exaptation for antiparasite defences and thus plays an important role in the host-parasite arms race.


Brood parasitism Egg shell Fecal sac Nest cleaning Object rejection Passeriformes 


Wir überprüften Daten zur Nesthygiene (Nestsäuberung) bei Singvögeln. Es wird angenommen, dass Nestsäuberung assoziiert ist mit der Zurückweisung von Eiern durch Wirte von Brutparasiten. Bislang gibt es jedoch keine Synthese der Literatur zur Nesthygiene. Daher fassen wir im ersten Teil der Arbeit die vorhandenen Informationen zur Nesthygiene zusammen. Wir fanden heraus, dass Vögel eine Vielzahl von Objekten aus ihren Nestern entfernen, beispielsweise Eierschalen, Kotpakete, Vegetationsteile, wirbellose Parasiten, tote Küken, Futterreste und gelegentlich nicht geschlüpfte Eier. Die Beseitigung von Kotpaketen, das am meisten beobachtete Nesthygieneverhalten, wird von den Geschlechtern nicht gleichverteilt durchgeführt. Weibchen entfernen mehr Kot aus den Nestern als Männchen. Darüber hinaus tendieren größere Arten dazu, Kotreste weiter weg zu bringen als kleinere Arten. Im zweiten Teil der Studie diskutieren wir die Bedeutung von Nesthygiene in der Evolution des Verhaltens der Gelegeablehnung durch Wirtsarten für Brutparasiten. Aktuelle Studien, bei denen experimentell nicht eierschalenförmige Objekte in die Nester oder in deren Nähe gelegt worden sind, deuten an, dass für die Wirtsarten Nesthygiene eine Rolle spielt bei der Vermeidung von Brutparasitismus durch andere Vogelarten. Die meisten Objekte, die vor (normalerweise harte) und nach dem Schlupf (normalerweise weiche) den Nestern hinzugefügt wurden, werden entfernt. In einem logistischen Regressionsmodell sind Form und Größe die entscheidenden Faktoren für die Zurückweisung der Eier durch die Wirtsvögel, deren Nestern vor dem Schlupf nicht-eierförmige Objekte hinzugefügt worden sind. Nesthygiene könnte eine besondere Anpassung (Exaptation) für Parasitenabwehr darstellen und spielt daher eine bedeutende Rolle in der Beziehung zwischen Wirt und Parasit.



We thank Document Delivery services at the University of Manitoba for providing numerous copies of manuscripts, books, and microfilms sought throughout our research. We thank K.H. Elliott and T.J. Underwood for constructive comments on a draft of this manuscript. This work was funded by Undergraduate Summer Research Awards and a Canada Graduate Scholarship to M.F.G. and a Discovery Grant (9556) to S.G.S. from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Supplementary material

10336_2011_731_MOESM1_ESM.doc (228 kb)
Supplementary Material 1: Common and scientific names of species mentioned in the text and in supplementary material. Order and nomenclature follow Gill and Wright (2006) (DOC 228 kb)
10336_2011_731_MOESM2_ESM.doc (290 kb)
Supplementary Material 2: Summary of objects removed from nests in nature (“eaten” = eaten at the nest) (DOC 289 kb)
10336_2011_731_MOESM3_ESM.doc (82 kb)
Supplementary Material 3: Summary of sex differences in nest sanitation in nature (DOC 81.5 kb)
10336_2011_731_MOESM4_ESM.doc (37 kb)
Supplementary Material 4: Responses of passerine birds to non-egg-shaped objects added to their nest or to the vicinity of their nest during the nestling stage (DOC 37 kb)
10336_2011_731_MOESM5_ESM.doc (307 kb)
Supplementary Material 5: Supplementary references (DOC 307 kb)


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  2. 2.Advanced Facility for Avian ResearchUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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