US Fish & Wildlife Service
Date of this Version
Nestling growth and development studies have been a topic of interest for a greater part of the last century (Sutton 1935, Walkinshaw 1948) and continue to be of interest today. This is not surprising since studies on nestling growth can provide a wealth of biological information that has larger implications for avian management and conservation. Despite this history of studying nestling development, basic information is still limited or absent for many species. Many questions remain unanswered, and contradictory conclusions are often found in the literature (Starck and Ricklefs 1998a). Therefore, much information on aging and development can still be gained from studying the development patterns of similar species and from comparative studies, across avian orders (Minea et al. 1982, Saunders and Hansen 1989, Carsson and Hörnfeldt 1993). Additionally, nestling growth studies can yield insight into the effects of different nesting strategies on productivity (O’Connor 1978), as well as the impacts of parental effort and environmental variables on fitness (Ross 1980, Ricklefs and Peters 1981, Magrath 1991). Since low reproductive success may play a significant role in the declines of many North American passerines (Sherry and Holmes 1992, Ballard et al. 2003), a better understanding of the factors that influence reproductive success is a vital component of avian conservation (Martin 1992). Data on nestling aging can be used to improve nest survival estimates (Dinsmore 2002, Nur et al. 2004), providing information that can be used to more precisely age nests (Pinkowski 1975, Podlesack and Blem 2002), (Jones and Geupel 2007). Indeed, the relatively short time period young spend developing in the nest is a critical part of a bird’s life cycle and a nestling’s developmental path can affect its survival to independence, its survival as an adult, and its future reproductive success.
Published in BTP-R6008-2007, 1-66, (2007)