, Volume 177, Issue 2, pp 413–421 | Cite as

Costs and benefits of late nesting in cliff swallows

  • Charles R. Brown
  • Erin A. Roche
  • Valerie A. O’Brien
Population ecology - Original research


Many organisms of temperate latitudes exhibit declines in reproductive success as the breeding season advances. Experiments can delay the onset of reproduction for early breeders to investigate the consequences of late nesting, but it is rarely possible to observe a distinct second round of nesting in species that normally nest only once. The colonial cliff swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) is a migratory songbird that has a relatively short breeding season in the western Great Plains, USA, with birds rarely nesting late in the summer. Previous work suggested that ectoparasitism is a primary reason why reproductive success in this species declines over the summer. At colony sites where nests were fumigated to remove ectoparasitic swallow bugs (Oeciacus vicarius), cliff swallows frequently undertook a distinct round of late nesting after previously fledging young that year. Mark-recapture revealed that late-nesting pairs at these colonies produced fewer offspring that survived to the next breeding season, and that survival of late-nesting adults was lower during the next year, relative to pairs nesting earlier in the season. These reproductive costs applied in the absence of ectoparasites and likely reflect other environmental costs of late nesting such as seasonal declines in food availability or a delayed start of fall migration. Despite the costs, the estimated fitness for perennial early-and-late nesters in the absence of ectoparasites was equivalent to that of birds that nested only early in the season. The collective disadvantages of late nesting likely constrain most cliff swallows to raising a single brood in the middle latitudes of North America.


Cliff swallow Cost of reproduction Ectoparasites Fecundity Life history Petrochelidon pyrrhonota Reproductive phenology Survival Time of breeding 



We thank Frank Axell, Alex Brazeal, Ananda Ellis, Emily Geary, Beate Hall, Bryce Hatfield, Jordan Herman, Allison Johnson, Kristen Lear, Nathan Miller, Catherine Page, Paul Smelcer, and Jessica Tipple for assistance with mark-recapture. Amy Moore managed the mark-recapture database. The Union Pacific Railroad provided access to land. The School of Biological Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln allowed us to use the Cedar Point Biological Station. We thank the National Science Foundation (DEB-0514824, DEB-1019423), the National Institutes of Health (AI057569), and the University of Tulsa’s Graduate School for financial support. This work was approved by the University of Tulsa’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee under protocol TU-0020 and was conducted in accordance with the laws of the United States of America.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles R. Brown
    • 1
  • Erin A. Roche
    • 1
    • 2
  • Valerie A. O’Brien
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of TulsaTulsaUSA
  2. 2.USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research CenterJamestownUSA
  3. 3.Division of Science and MathematicsTulsa Community College–Metro CampusTulsaUSA

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