Postfledging crèche behavior in the European shag

Velando, A. Postfledging crèche behavior in the European shag. Journal of Ethology 19, 121–127 (2001).

Formation of a postfledgling crèche in the European shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis on the Cíes Islands (northwest Spain) was studied. There was no relationship between the number of birds in a crèche and environmental temperature. Moreover, the number of juveniles in the crèche was not correlated with adult peck rate per juvenile. Also, predation was not reported on the studied population. Therefore, their postfledging crèche did not serve as protection from thermal stress, aggressiveness of adults, or predators. In the crèche studied, fledglings are faithful to their perch, which serves as a functional unit where they form a group consisting of stable members. I postulate that there may be advantages in the formation of crèches, which allow adults to be able to locate their young and continue their postfledging parental care and also enable chicks to exercise and develop fishing skills. Adults remained in the crèche during the entire period, but their number depended on the hour and tide, which would be associated with the effectiveness of fishing according to these factors. Moreover, crèches may facilitate finding mates and forming feeding groups.

Begging response of gull chicks to the red spot on the parental bill

Velando, A., Kim, S.-Y. & Noguera, J. C. Begging response of gull chicks to the red spot on the parental bill. Animal Behaviour 85, 1359–1366 (2013).

In some animals, offspring begging is elicited by parents through behavioural or morphological signals. The red spot on the lower mandible in adult gulls is one of the best-known examples of a signal triggering chick begging. We examined whether the begging response of chicks (pecking for food and the chatter call for drawing parental attention) was affected by the spot size within the natural range of variation on a dummy head. Using a cross-fostering experiment, we examined whether these responses covary with the size of the genetic or social parent’s spot. We found that the natural variation in size of this parental signal strongly influenced intensity of chick begging. Pecking increased when chicks were stimulated by a larger red spot. Additionally, pecking intensity increased in chicks reared by mothers with a large red spot, suggesting that this begging component is influenced by previous experience. In contrast, chick hatching order affected the number of chatter calls produced in relation to the size of the red spot on the dummy, suggesting the presence of different begging strategies according to brood hierarchy. The differential call response to a small/large red spot on the dummy was positively correlated with the original mothers’ red spot size and negatively with that of the original fathers. These results suggest a genetic correlation between biased chick response for a large spot and parental signal in contrasting patterns for mothers and fathers. Our results suggest that the parental red spot and offspring begging are traits subject to coevolution.

Maternal testosterone influences a begging component that makes fathers work harder in chick provisioning

Noguera, J. C., Kim, S.-Y. & Velando, A. Maternal testosterone influences a begging component that makes fathers work harder in chick provisioning. Hormones and behavior 64, 19–25 (2013).

In species with biparental care, parents disagree evolutionarily over the amount of care that each of them is willing to provide to offspring. It has recently been hypothesised that females may try to manipulate their mates by modifying offspring begging behaviour through yolk hormone deposition, shifting the division of labour in their own favour. To test this hypothesis we first investigated how yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) parents feed offspring in relation to each component of complex begging behaviour and if feeding behaviour varies between sexes. Then we investigated the effect of yolk testosterone on chicks’ begging by experimentally increasing yolk testosterone levels. Our results revealed that yolk testosterone has a component-specific effect on chicks’ begging, specifically increasing the number of chatter calls. Parental feeding effort was influenced by the number of chatter calls emitted by chicks, but most importantly, the influence was stronger in male than in female parents. Moreover, chick body mass increased with the number of paternal feeds. In conclusion, these results show that female gulls may use yolk testosterone deposition to exploit their partners as predicted by the ‘Manipulating Androgen Hypothesis (MAH)’.