A developmental constraint on the fledging time of birds


*David Carrier, Division of Biology & Medicine, Box G, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, U.S.A.


We examined the hypothesis that the rate of bone growth limits the minimum fledging time of birds. Previous observations in California gulls indicate that linear growth of wing bones may be the rate limiting factor in wing development. If bone growth is rate limiting, then birds with relatively long bones for their size could be expected to have longer fledging periods than birds with relatively short bones. We tested this by comparing the length of wing bones, relative to body mass, to the relative length of fledging periods among 25 families. The results support the hypothesis. A strong correlation exists between relative fledging period and relative bone length. Species which have relatively long bones for their body size tend to take longer to fly. In contrast, parameters that influence flight style and performance, such as size of the pectoralis muscle and wing loading, show little or no correlation with fledging time. The analysis also indicates that, when altricial and precocial species are considered together, bone length is more highly correlated with fledging time than is body mass or rate of increase in body mass during growth. These observations suggest that linear growth of bones does limit the growth of avian wings and that it is one of the factors that influences the fledging time of birds.