Parental Sex Differences in Food Allocation to Junior Brood Members as Mediated by Prey Size


Karen L. Wiebe, Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Place, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7N 5E2, Canada. E-mail:


Individual offspring within a brood may receive different amounts of provisioning from the male and female parents. Some hypotheses suggest that this bias is the result of an active and adaptive choice by parents. An alternative hypothesis is that feeding biases arise as a result of a constraint of fitting large prey items into small gapes. In an experiment with pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca, we tested for sex-biased allocation to junior nestlings in asynchronous broods and whether this could be explained by active parental choice or by passive allocation according to prey size and gape size. In both control broods and broods with experimentally increased degree of asynchrony, prey types did not differ between parents but females brought smaller prey than males at younger but not older nestling stages. At younger but not older nestling stages, the majority of feeds to junior nestlings were from females, and the smaller nestlings consumed smaller prey than older siblings. However, there was no evidence of active preference of small nestlings by females as parents did not differ in the tendency to bypass a begging senior nestling in order to feed a junior nestling. Provisioning rates by females were lower than those by males when nestlings were young and we suggest that foraging time constraints caused by the need to brood offspring result in females bringing smaller prey than males. In turn, the larger prey brought by males was more often transferred to larger offspring after the smaller ones failed to swallow it. In such cases, ‘preferential’ feeding of small nestlings by females may simply be a passive side effect of foraging constraints and gape-size limitations.