Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Animal Behaviour 76:4 (October 2008), pp. 1201–1210



Copyright © 2008 Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour; published by Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.


One probable cost of dispersing to a new breeding habitat is unfamiliarity with local conditions such as the whereabouts of food or the habits of local predators, and consequently immigrants may have lower probabilities of survival than more experienced residents. Within a breeding season, estimated daily survival probabilities of cliff swallows, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, at colonies in southwestern Nebraska, USA, were highest for birds that had always nested at the same site, followed by those for birds that had nested there in some (but not all) past years. Daily survival probabilities were lowest for birds that were naive immigrants to a colony site and for yearling birds that were nesting for the first time. Birds with past experience at a colony site had monthly survival 8.6% greater than that of naive immigrants. Experienced residents did better than immigrants in colonies with fewer than 750 nests, but in colonies with more than 750 nests, naive immigrants paid no survival costs relative to experienced residents. Removal of nest ectoparasites by fumigation resulted in higher survival probabilities for all birds, on average, and diminished the differences between immigrants and past residents, probably by improving bird condition to the extent that effects of past experience were relatively less important and harder to detect. The greater survival of experienced residents could not be explained by condition or territory quality, suggesting that familiarity with a local area confers survival advantages during the breeding season for cliff swallows. Colonial nesting may help to moderate the cost of unfamiliarity with an area, probably through social transfer of information about food sources and enhanced vigilance in large groups.