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Begging in Common Redstart Nestlings: Scramble Competition or Signalling of Need?


Jiří Porkert, Gočárova 542, Hradec Králové, 500 02, Czech Republic.


Begging behaviour by the young affects parental food distribution among nestlings of altricial birds. We present an analysis of two types of begging behaviour (assuming the front nest positions and gaping) based on videotaped natural nestling feeding in European common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus). We test whether these types of begging support the predictions of two mathematical models: scramble competition with competitive asymmetries between nestlings [Anim. Behav.27 (1979) 1210] or honest signalling model [Nature352 (1991) 328]. None of the measured variables of nestling or parental behaviour were affected by body weight differences between siblings. In contrast, both gaping and nest positioning were affected by individual differences in nestling hunger. In agreement with the honest signalling model, hungrier nestlings gaped with higher probability and started to gape sooner after the arrival of the parent than did their less hungry nestmates. Those nestlings with the shortest latency to gape also received food more often. Nest positioning was related to nestling hunger in a way unforeseen by the existing models. The intervals between nestling position changes were several times longer than the intervals between parental feeding visits, and parents preferred to feed nestlings in front positions, so nestlings in front positions were always less hungry than nestlings in back. Hence the pattern of movements influenced the feeding decision in favour of the more satiated nestlings and acted against the effect of gaping. Nestling movement seemed to be caused by the less hungry nestlings moving actively from front to rear positions. Low mortality of individual nestlings within broods that survived to fledging and small within-brood variation in fledging weights indicated low competition among nestmates. We suggest that there are two behavioural mechanisms that contribute to the equalization of fledging weights in common redstart nestlings: the signalling of need through gaping and the regular turnover of nestlings at front positions.