Begging and food distribution in crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans) broods: why don't hungry chicks beg more?
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Altricial nestlings solicit food by begging and engaging in scramble competition. Solicitation displays can thus signal both hunger and competitive ability. I examined nestling solicitation and parental responses in crimson rosellas (Platycercus elegans), a species in which parents engage in complex patterns of food allocation and appear to control the distribution of food. By manipulating the hunger of individual chicks and entire broods, I assessed how chick behaviours and parental food allocation varied with hatching rank, level of hunger, and intensity of nestling competition. Last-hatched chicks begged more than first-hatched chicks irrespective of individual hunger levels. The two parents combined fed individually hungry chicks more, but mothers and fathers varied in their responses to begging chicks: fathers fed last-hatched chicks in proportion to their begging intensity, whereas mothers fed chicks equally. Since fathers generally allocate more food to first-hatched chicks, fathers appear to use begging rates to adjust food allocation to non-preferred chicks within the brood. When I manipulated brood hunger levels, begging rates increased for first- and last-hatched chicks suggesting that chick begging rates are sensitive to the level of competition. This study shows that begging by rosella chicks does not correlate with hunger in a straightforward way and that the primary patterns of food allocation by parents are not influenced by chick begging. Thus the benefits of increased begging may be limited for nestlings in this species.
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