Date of this Version
Prairie Naturalist 46:2 (December 2014), pp. 76–87.
Episodes of food deprivation may change how nestling birds allocate energy to the growth of skeletal and feather morphological traits during development. Cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) are colonial, insectivorous birds that regularly experience brief periods of severe weather–induced food deprivation during the nesting season which may affect offspring development. We investigated how annual variation in timing of rearing and weather were associated with length of wing and tail, skeletal traits, and body mass in juvenile cliff swallows reared in southwestern Nebraska during 2001–2006. As predicted under conditions of food deprivation, nestling skeletal and feather measurements were generally smaller in cooler years. However, variability explained by weather was small, suggesting that morphometric traits of juvenile cliff swallows were not highly sensitive to weather conditions experienced during this study. Measurements of juvenile morphological traits were positively correlated with measurements taken as adults, meaning that any variation among juveniles in response to rearing conditions showed evidence of persisting into a bird’s first breeding season. Our results show that body size in this species is phenotypically plastic and influenced, in part, by weather variables.