• delayed dispersal;
  • natal philopatry;
  • nestling weight


  • 1
     We describe patterns of post-fledging care, dispersal and recruitment in four cohorts of brown thornbills Acanthiza pusilla. We examine what factors influence post-fledging survival and determine how post-fledging care and the timing of dispersal influence the probability of recruitment in this small, pair breeding, Australian passerine.
  • 2
     Fledgling thornbills were dependent on their parents for approximately 6 weeks. Male fledglings were more likely than female fledglings to survive until independence. For both sexes, the probability of reaching independence increased as nestling weight increased and was higher for nestlings that fledged later in the season.
  • 3
     The timing of dispersal by juvenile thornbills was bimodal. Juveniles either dispersed by the end of the breeding season or remained on their natal territory into the autumn and winter. Juveniles that delayed dispersal were four times more likely to recruit into the local breeding population than juveniles that dispersed early.
  • 4
     Delayed dispersal was advantageous because individuals that remained on their natal territory suffered little mortality and tended to disperse only when a local vacancy was available. Consequently, the risk of mortality associated with obtaining a breeding vacancy using this dispersal strategy was low.
  • 5
     Males, the more philopatric sex, were far more likely than females to delay dispersal. Despite the apparent advantages of prolonged natal philopatry, however, only 54% of pairs that raised male fledglings to independence had sons that postponed dispersal, and most of these philopatric sons gained vacancies before their parents bred again. Consequently, few sons have the opportunity to help their parents. Constraints on delayed dispersal therefore appear to play a major role in the evolution of pair-breeding in the brown thornbill.