Sex-specific provisioning of nutritious food items in relation to brood sex ratios in a non-dimorphic bird

  • Pamela Espíndola-Hernández
  • Gabriel J. Castaño-Villa
  • Rodrigo A. Vásquez
  • Verónica Quirici
Original Article


In birds, the frequency with which the parents feed the young can vary considerably. Because of sexual differences in the begging behaviour and/or differences in the food requirements of the nestlings, brood sex ratio (BSR) is an important factor that may influence parental provisioning behaviour. Disparities in the quantity and quality of prey received by the sexes have been reported in a range of sexually size-dimorphic birds. However, to our knowledge, no study has evaluated prey composition delivery to nestlings in relation to BSR in a non-dimorphic size bird species. Because BSR influences provisioning rate in dimorphic and non-size dimorphic species and because in dimorphic species, BSR influences prey composition delivered to the nest, we hypothesised that similar to dimorphic species, BSR may influence prey composition delivered to nestlings in non-size dimorphic species. We quantify parental provisioning rate and prey composition of prey delivered to nestlings in relation to BSR in the Thorn-tailed Rayadito (Aphrastura spinicauda) a non-dimorphic and altricial passerine bird. At the population level, we found that Thorn-tailed Rayadito mothers delivered more insect larvae to the nest when compared to the father, who provided the brood with a diet more diverse in composition. However, when we considered BSR, mothers delivered a greater quantity of arachnida and lepidoptera items (high-quality foods) in male-biased BSR. In addition, nestling weight gain increased in line with the proportion of high-quality food in the diet. Our results suggest that when considering non-dimorphic species, there may be more subtle, but nevertheless important, differences, in explaining parental care behaviour in species with bi-parental care.

Significance statement

In birds, the frequency with which the parents feed the young can vary considerably. Because of sexual differences in the begging behaviour and/or differences in the food requirements of the nestlings, brood sex ratio is an important factor that may influence parental provisioning behaviour in sexual size species. For the first time, we evaluated prey composition delivery to nestlings in relation to BSR in a non-size dimorphic bird species. We found that the mother of the Thorn-tailed Rayadito delivered a greater quantity of lepidoptera and arachnida (high-quality food) items in a male-biased brood. In addition, nestling weight gain increased with the proportion of high-quality food in the diet. Our results suggest that in non-dimorphic species, there may be more subtle, but nevertheless important, differences in explaining parental care behaviour in species with bi-parental care.


Thorn-tailed Rayadito Aphrastura spinicauda Avian nutrition Bi-parental care 



We warmly thank Cristóbal Venegas for help with fieldwork. Andrés Fierro helped with the first step of diet classification. We would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback, which greatly improved the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. The study was performed with the permission of Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero (SAG) (permit number: 4668) and the Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF) (permit number: 54/2012) Chile. This article does not contain any study on human participants performed by any of the authors.


This study was funded by Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico (grant number 1100359 and 11130245 to Verónica Quirici and grant number 1140548 to Rodrigo Vásquez).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.


  1. Anderson DJ, Reeve J, Martinez Gomez JE, Weathers WW, Hutson S, Cunningham HV, Bird DM (1993) Sexual size dimorphism and food requirements of nestling birds. Can J Zool 71:2541–2545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boncoraglio G, Martinelli R, Saino N (2008) Sex-related asymmetry in competitive ability of sexually monomorphic barn swallow nestlings. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:729–738CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Castaño-Villa GJ (2015) Selección sexual en un ave socialmente monógama, Aphrastura spinicauda, (Furnariidae). PhD thesis, Universidad de ChileGoogle Scholar
  4. Chamberlain DE, Hatchwell BJ, Perrins CM (1999) Importance of feeding ecology to the reproductive success of blackbirds Turdus merula nesting in rural habitats. Ibis 141:415–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clotfelter ED (1996) Mechanisms of facultative sex-ratio variation in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Auk 113:441–449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cowie RJ, Hinsley SA (1988) Feeding ecology of great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Parus caeruleus) breeding in suburban gardens. J Anim Ecol 57:611–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Diniz P (2011) Sex-dependent foraging effort and vigilance in coal-crested finches, Charitospiza eucosma (Aves: Emberizidae) during the breeding season: evidence of female-biased predation? Zoologia 28:165–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dixon A, Ross D, O’Malley SLC, Burke T (1994) Paternal investment inversely related to degree of extra-pair paternity in the reed bunting. Nature 371:698–700CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fridolfsson AK, Ellegreen H (1999) A simple and universal method for molecular sexing of non-ratite birds. J Avian Biol 30:116–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Green AJ (2001) Mass/length residuals: measures of body condition or generators of spurious results? Ecology 82:1473–1483CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grieco F (2002) Time constraint on food choice in provisioning blue tits, Parus caeruleus: the relationship between feeding rate and prey size. Anim Behav 64:517–526CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Griffith S, Owens I, Thuman A (2002) Extra pair paternity in birds: a review of interspecific variation and adaptive function. Mol Ecol 11:2195–2212CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Grundel R, Dahlsten DL (1991) The feeding ecology of mountain chickadees (Parus gambeli); patterns of arthropod prey delivery to nestling birds. Can J Zool 69:1793–1804CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Henderson IG, Hart PJB (1993) Provisioning, parental investment and reproductive success in jackdaws Corvus monedula. Ornis Scand 24:42–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jakob EM, Marshall SD, Uetz G (1996) Estimating fitness: a comparison of body condition indices. Oikos 77:61–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Karasov WH (1990) Digestion in birds: chemical and physiological determinants and ecological implications. Stud Avian Biol 13:319–415Google Scholar
  17. Kaspari M (1991) Prey preparation and the determinants of handling time. Anim Behav 40:118–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Klasing KC (1998) Comparative avian nutrition. CAB International, WallingfordGoogle Scholar
  19. Krijgsveld KL, Dijkstra C, Visser GH, Daan S (1998) Energy requirements for growth in relation to sexual size dimorphism in marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus nestlings. Physiol Zool 71:693–702CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Leckie FM, Arroyo BE, Thirgood SJ, Redpath SM (2008) Parental differences in brood provisioning by hen harriers Circus cyaneus. Bird Study 5:209–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Leonard ML, Teather KL, Horn AG, Koenig WD, Dickinson JL (1994) Provisioning in western bluebirds is not related to offspring sex. Behav Ecol 5:455–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Magrath MJL, van Lieshout E, Visser GH, Komdeur J (2004) Nutritional bias as a new mode of adjusting sex allocation. Proc R Soc Lond B 271:347–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mainwaring MC, Lucy D, Hartley IR (2011) Parentally biased favouritism in relation to offspring sex in zebra finches. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 65:2261–2268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Moreno J, Merino S, Vásquez R, Armesto J (2005) Breeding biology of the thorn-tailed rayadito (Furnariidae) in south-temperate rainforests of Chile. Condor 107:69–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Moreno J, Merino S, Lobato E, Rodríguez-Gironés MA, Vásquez R (2007) Sexual dimorphism and parental roles in the thorn-tailed rayadito (Furnariidae). Condor 109:312–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nishiumi I, Yamagishi S, Maekawa H, Shimoda C (1996) Paternal expenditure is related to brood sex ratio in polygynous great reed warblers. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 39:211–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pinheiro J, Bates D, Debroy S, Sarkar D, R Core Team (2016) nlme: Linear and nonlinear mixed effects models, R package version 3.1–124,
  28. Quirici V, Venegas CI, González-Gómez PL, Castaño-Villa GJ, Wingfield JC, Vásquez RA (2014) Baseline corticosterone and stress response in the thorn-tailed rayadito (Aphrastura spinicauda) along a latitudinal gradient. Gen Comp Endocrinol 198:39–46CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Quirici V, Guerrero CJ, Krause JS, Wingfield JC, Vásquez RA (2016) The relationship of telomere length to baseline corticosterone levels in nestlings of an altricial passerine bird in natural populations. Front Zool 13:1CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  30. R Core Team (2013) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria,
  31. Ramsay SL, Houston DC (2003) Amino acid composition of some woodland arthropods and its implications for breeding tits and other passerines. Ibis 145:227–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Randler C, Pentzold S, Teichmann C (2010) Weather conditions and sexual differences affect the foraging behavior of the insectivorous Cyprus wheatear, Oenanthe cyprica (Aves: Passeriformes: Muscicapidae). Vertebr Zool 60:175–181Google Scholar
  33. Remsen JV (2003) Family Furnariidae (ovenbirds). In: del Hoyo JH, Elliott A, Christie DA (eds) Handbook of the birds of the world. broadbills to tapaculos, vol 8. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, p 162–357Google Scholar
  34. Royle NJ, Hartley IR, Owens IPF, Parker GA (1999) Sibling competition and the evolution of growth rates in birds. Proc R Soc Lond B 266:923–932CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rozzi R, Massardo F, Mansilla A et al (2004) La Reserva de Biosfera Cabo de Hornos: un desafío para la conservación de la biodiversidad e implementación del desarrollo sustentable en el extremo austral de América. An Inst Patagonia 35:55–70Google Scholar
  36. Ryser S, Guillod N, Bottini C, Arlettaz R, Jacot A (2016) Sex-specific food provisioning patterns by parents in the asynchronously hatching European hoopoe. Anim Behav 117:15–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sacchi R, Saino N, Galeotti P (2002) Features of begging calls reveal general condition and need of food of barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) nestlings. Behav Ecol 13:268–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Saino N, Ninni P, Incagli M, Calza S, Møller AP (2000) Begging and parental care in relation to offspring need and condition in the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica). Am Nat 156:637–649CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Saino N, Suffritti C, Martinelli R, Rubolini D, Møller AP (2003) Immune response covaries with corticosterone plasma levels under experimentally stressful conditions in nestling barn swallows (Hirundo rustica). Behav Ecol 14: 318–325Google Scholar
  40. Teather KL, Weatherhead PJ (1988) Sex-specific energy requirements of great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) nestlings. J Anim Ecol 57:659–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Weimerskirch H, Barbraud C, Lys P (2000) Sex differences in parental investment and chick growth in wandering albatrosses: fitness consequences. Ecology 81:309–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Welcker J, Steen H, Harding AM, Gabrielsen GW (2009) Sex-specific provisioning behaviour in a monomorphic seabird with a bimodal foraging strategy. Ibis 151:502–513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Yáñez DI, Quirici V, Castaño-Villa GJ, Poulin E, Vásquez RA (2015) Isolation and characterisation of eight microsatellite markers of the Thorn-tailed Rayadito Aphrastura spinicauda. Ardeola 62:179–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pamela Espíndola-Hernández
    • 1
  • Gabriel J. Castaño-Villa
    • 2
  • Rodrigo A. Vásquez
    • 1
  • Verónica Quirici
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad and Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de ChileSantiagoChile
  2. 2.Grupo de Investigación en Ecosistemas Tropicales, Facultad de Ciencias AgropecuariasUniversidad de CaldasManizalesColombia
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecología y Biodiversidad, Facultad de Ecología y Recursos NaturalesUniversidad Andres BelloSantiagoChile
  4. 4.Centro de Investigación para la SustentabilidadUniversidad Andres BelloSantiagoChile

Personalised recommendations