Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 54, Issue 6, pp 573–577 | Cite as

Does begging affect growth in nestling tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor?

  • Marty L. LeonardEmail author
  • Andrew G. Horn
  • Jackie Porter
Original Article


Much of the theoretical work on the evolution of begging assumes this elaborate display is costly. The evidence for an energetic cost to begging has, however, been equivocal. Metabolic studies on nestling birds suggest that begging requires minimal energy, but some growth studies have shown that excess begging reduces growth rates. One difficulty in interpreting these results is that metabolic and growth studies have each been performed on different species. Here, we test whether high begging frequencies depress growth in nestling tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, a species in which the metabolic cost of begging has been measured. When we compared the growth of nestlings stimulated to beg at either high or low frequencies, we found no significant differences in their mass gained, wing growth or portion of ingested energy devoted to begging either during the experimental period or in the 24 h following the end of the experiment. We also found no significant relationship between begging intensity and growth measurements. The results of our study are consistent with previous metabolic studies on this species suggesting that the energetic cost of begging is relatively low. More generally, evidence for a fitness cost of begging via decreased growth is equivocal.


Begging Costs Energy Growth Tree swallows 



We thank Alia Mukhida for help with the field work, Carey Isenor for providing equipment and the Coldwell, Minor and Hyne families for access to their land. We also thank the reviewers for helpful comments. This project was supported by a NSERC research grant to M.L.L.


  1. Bachman GC, Chappell MA (1998) The energetic cost of begging behaviour in nestling house wrens. Anim Behav 55:1607–1618Google Scholar
  2. Bergstrom CT, Lachmann M (1998) Signalling among relatives. III. Talk is cheap. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 95:5100–5105CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Chappell MA, Bachman GC (2002) Energetic costs of begging behaviour. In: Wright J, Leonard ML (eds) The evolution of nestling begging: competition, cooperation and communication. Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp 143–162Google Scholar
  4. Godfray HCJ (1991) Signalling of need by offspring to their parents. Nature 352:328–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Godfray HCJ (1995) Evolutionary theory of parent-offspring conflict. Nature 376:133–138Google Scholar
  6. Horn AG, Leonard ML (2002) Efficacy and the design of begging signals. In: Wright J, Leonard ML (eds) The evolution of nestling begging: competition, cooperation and communication. Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp 127–141Google Scholar
  7. Johnstone RA, Godfray HC (2002) Models of begging as a signal of need. In: Wright J, Leonard ML (eds) The evolution of nestling begging: competition, cooperation and communication. Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp 1–20Google Scholar
  8. Kedar H, Rodríguez-Gironés MA, Yedvab S, Winkler DW, Lotem A (2000) Experimental evidence for offspring learning in parent-offspring communication. Proc R Soc Lond B 267:1723–1727CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Kilner RM (2001) A growth cost of begging in captive canary chicks. Proc Natl Acad Sci 98:11394–11398PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Kilpatrick AM (2002) Variation in growth of brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) nestlings and energetic impacts on their host parents. Can J Zool 80:145–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Leech SM, Leonard ML (1996) Is there an energetic cost to begging in nestling tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)? Proc R Soc Lond B 263:983–987Google Scholar
  12. Leonard ML, Horn AG (1996) Provisioning rules in tree swallows. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 38:341–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Leonard ML, Horn AG (2001) Begging in the absence of parents by nestling tree swallows. Behav Ecol 12:501–505CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Leonard ML, Fernandez N, Brown G (1997) Parental calls and nestling behavior in tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor. Auk 114:668–672Google Scholar
  15. McCarty J (1995) Effects of short-term changes in environmental conditions on the foraging ecology and reproductive success of tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor. PhD thesis, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.Google Scholar
  16. McCarty JP (1996) The energetic cost of begging in nestling passerines. Auk 113:178–188Google Scholar
  17. McCarty JP (2001) Variation in growth of nestling tree swallows across multiple temporal and spatial scales. Auk 118:176–190Google Scholar
  18. Parker GA, Macnair MR (1979) Models of parent-offspring conflict IV. Suppression: evolutionary retaliation by the parent. Anim Behav 27:1210–1235Google Scholar
  19. Rodríguez-Gironés MA, Zuñiga JM, Redondo T (2001) Effects of begging on growth rates of nestling chicks. Behav Ecol 12:269–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Teather, K (1996) Patterns of growth and asymmetry in nesting tree swallows. J Avian Biol 27:302–310Google Scholar
  21. Weathers W (1992) Scaling nestling energy requirements. Ibis 114:142–153Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marty L. Leonard
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrew G. Horn
    • 1
  • Jackie Porter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

Personalised recommendations