Sex-related parental care strategies in the lesser spotted woodpecker Picoides minor: of flexible mothers and dependable fathers


  • Eva Rossmanith,

  • Niels Blaum,

  • Kerstin Höntsch,

  • Florian Jeltsch

E. Rossmanith (correspondence), N. Blaum and F. Jeltsch, Vegetation Ecology and Nature Conservation, Univ. of Potsdam, Am neuen Palais 10, 14469 Potsdam, Germany. E-mail: – K. Höntsch, Naturstiftung David, Trommsdorffstr.5, 99084 Erfurt, Germany.


We investigated sex-specific parental care behaviour of lesser spotted woodpeckers Picoides minor in the low mountain range Taunus, Germany. Observed parental care included incubation, nest sanitation as well as brooding and feeding of nestlings. Contributions of the two sexes to parental care changed in progress of the breeding period. During incubation and the first half of the nestling period, parental care was divided equally between partners. However, in the late nestling stage, we found males to feed their nestlings irrespective of brood size while females considerably decreased feeding rate with the number of nestlings. This behaviour culminated in desertion of small broods by females shortly before fledging. The fact that even deserted nests were successful indicates that males were able to compensate for the females’ absence. Interestingly, the mating of one female with two males with separate nests could be found in the population, which confirms earlier findings of polyandry in the lesser spotted woodpecker. We conclude that biparental care is not essential in the later stage and one partner can reduce effort and thus costs of parental care, at least in small broods where the mate is able to compensate for that behaviour. Reduced care and desertion appears only in females, which might be caused by a combination of two traits: First, females might suffer higher costs of investment in terms of mortality and secondly, male-biased sex ratio in the population generally leads to higher mating probabilities for females in the following breeding season. The occurrence of polyandry seems to be a result of these conditions.