Male European Starlings Use Odorous Herbs as Nest Material to Attract Females and Benefit Nestlings

Chapter

Abstract

Male European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) use odorous herbs as green nest material. They show these plants to females to catch their attention before they incorporate them into their nests. Nestlings reared in nests containing herbs carry fewer bacteria, have higher haematocrit levels and more basophile leucocytes, and have a higher fledging weight than those reared in nests without herbs. The incubation temperature is higher in nests with herbs than in herbless nests. Females are attracted by herb nests and herb nests provide energy-saving benefits to incubating females. In choice experiments, starlings employed olfaction to select nest herbs, using innate information and experience acquired as nestlings to identify odours. Measures of head space air in starling nest boxes revealed an increase of volatile substances during the nestlings phase. Manganese-enhanced resonance imaging of the olfactory bulb of starling showed that the neural correlates of olfactory sensitivity change seasonally. Starlings can only discriminate odours during the reproductive season. The association between odour perception and reproductive behaviour suggests that increased testosterone production, related to the increasing photoperiod in spring, may guide these seasonal changes. The size of the olfactory bulb but not its ability to discriminate was affected by testosterone implants in the non-reproductive season.

References

  1. Ardia DR, Perez JH, Chad EK, Voss MA, Clotfelter ED (2009) Temperature and life history: experimental heating leads female tree swallows to modulate egg temperature and incubation behaviour. J Anim Ecol 78:4–13PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balthazart J, Taziaux M (2009) The underestimated role of olfaction in avian reproduction? Behav Brain Res 200:248–259PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bang BG, Cobb S (1968) The size of the olfactory bulb in 108 species of birds. Auk 85:55–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brower L, Komdeur J (2004) Green nesting material has a function in mate attraction in the European starling. Anim Behav 67:539–548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bucher EH (1988) Do birds use biological control against nest parasites? Parasitol Today 4:1–3PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark L, Mason JR (1985) Use of nest material as insecticidal and anti-pathogenic agents by the European starling. Oecologia 67:169–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clark L, Mason JR (1987) Olfactory discrimination of plant volatiles by the European starling. Anim Behav 35:227–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark L, Mason JR (1988) Effect of biologically active plants used as nest material and the derived benefit to starling nestlings. Oecologia 77:174–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clark L, Smeraski CA (1990) Seasonal shifts in odour acuity by starlings. J Exp Zool 255:22–29PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dawson D, Lawrie C, Brien L (2005) The importance of microclimatic variation in determining size, growth and survival of avian offspring: experimental evidence from a cavity nesting passerine. Oecologia 144:499–507PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De Groof G, Gwinner H, Steiger S, Kempenaers B, Van der Linden A (2010) Neural correlates of behavioural olfactory sensitivity changes seasonally in European starlings. PLoS One 5/12:e14337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fauth PT, Krementz DG, Hines JE (1991) Ectoparasitism and the role of green nesting material in the European starling. Oecologia 88:22–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gwinner H (1997) The function of green plants in nests of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Behaviour 134:337–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gwinner H, Berger S (2005) European starlings: nestling condition, parasites and green nest material during the breeding season. J Ornithol 146:365–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gwinner H, Oltrogge M, Trost L, Nienaber U (2000) Green plants in starling nests: effects on nestlings. Anim Behav 59:301–309PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hagelin J (2007) Odors and chemical signaling. In: Jamieson BG (ed) Reproductive behaviour and phylogeny of aves, vol 6B. Science Publishers, Enfield, NH, pp 76–119Google Scholar
  17. Hepp GR, Kennamer RA, Johnson MH (2006) Maternal effects in Wood Ducks: incubation temperature influences incubation period and neonate phenotype. Funct Ecol 20:307–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Johnstone RF, Hardy JW (1962) Behavior of the purple martin. Wilson Bull 74:243–262Google Scholar
  19. Lambert K (1997) Eintrag von grünem Nistmaterial beim Star, Sturnus vulgaris. Diplomarbeit, Universität WürzburgGoogle Scholar
  20. Marler P (1999) On innateness: are sparrow songs ‘learned’ or ‘innate’. In: Hauser MD, Konishi M (eds) The design of animal communication. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 293–318Google Scholar
  21. Maxwell MH, Robertson GW (1995) The avian basophilic leucocyte. A review. Worlds Poultry Sci J 51:307–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mennerat A, Mirleau P, Blondel J, Perret P, Lambrechts MM, Heeb P (2009a) Aromatic plants in nests of the blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus protect chicks from bacteria. Oecologia 161:849–855PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mennerat A, Perret P, Bourgault P, Blondel J, Gimenez O, Thomas DW, Heeb P, Lambrechts MM (2009b) Aromatic plants in nests of blue tits: positive effects on nestlings. Anim Behav 77:569–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Milton SJ, Dean RJ (1998) The use of green aromatic plants in Karoo bird nests. Ostrich 69:329Google Scholar
  25. Naumann JF (1838) Anhaltische GartenzeitungGoogle Scholar
  26. Olson CR, Vleck CM, Vleck D (2006) Periodic cooling of bird eggs reduces embryonic growth efficiency in chick Zebrafinches. Physiol Biochem Zool 79:927–936PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Petit C, Hossaert-McKey M, Perret P, Blondel J, Lambrechts MM (2002) Blue tits use selected plants and olfaction to maintain an aromatic environment for nestlings. Ecol Lett 5:585–589CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pinxten R, Eens M (1990) Polygyny in the European starling: effect on female reproductive success. Anim Behav 40:1035–1047CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rodgers JA Jr, Wenner AS, Schwikert ST (1988) The use and function of green nestmaterial by wood storks. Wilson Bull 1003:411–423Google Scholar
  30. Roitt IM, Brostoff J, Male DK (1996) Immunology. Mosby, LondonGoogle Scholar
  31. Roper TJ (1999) Olfaction in birds. In: Slater PJ, Rosenblatt JS, Snowdon CT, Roper TJ (eds) Advances in the study of behaviour, vol 28. Academic, Boston, MA, pp 247–332Google Scholar
  32. Roulin A, Jeanmonod J, Blanc T (1997) Green plant material on common buzzard’s (Buteo buteo) nests during the rearing of chicks. Alauda 65:251–257Google Scholar
  33. Sengupta S (1981) Adaptive significance of the use of Margosa leaves in nests of house sparrows Passer domesticus. Emu 81:114–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Steinegger E, Hänsel R (1988) Lehrbuch der Pharmakognosie und Phytopharmazie. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  35. Veiga JP, Polo V, Vinuela J (2006) Nest green plants as a male status signal and courtship display in the spotless starling. Ethology 112:196–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wagner H, Wiesenauer M (2003) Immunomodulatory agents from plants. Birkhäuser Verlag, BaselGoogle Scholar
  37. Wenzel BM (1971) Olfaction in birds. In: Beidler LM (ed) Handbook of sensory physiology IV, 1. Olfaction. Springer, Berlin, pp 432–448Google Scholar
  38. Wenzel BM (1973) Chemoreception. In: Farner DS, King JS (eds) Avian biology 3. Academic, New York, pp 389–415Google Scholar
  39. Wimberger PH (1984) The use of green plant material in bird nests to avoid ectoparasites. Auk 101:615–618Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max-Planck-Institute for OrnithologyEberhard-Gwinner-StraßeSeewiesenGermany

Personalised recommendations