Patterns of hatching failure in the house sparrow Passer domesticus


I. R. K. Stewart, Center for Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506, USA. E-mail:


Hatching failure is widespread in birds despite presumably strong selection against any wasted reproductive effort and yet there have been few attempts at uncovering sources of variation in failure within a species. Here we use 11 yr of data on the frequency of both undeveloped and unhatched eggs in a marked population of house sparrows Passer domesticus to examine the effects of multiple factors hypothesized to affect hatching success in birds including parental identity, phenotype and genotype, as well as several environmental variables. Unhatched eggs were present in 34.3% of 1523 clutches in which at least one egg hatched, and a total of 10.1% of eggs failed to hatch, of which 75.7% had no visible embryo. We found an effect of female identity on the proportion of eggs that developed and an effect of male identity on hatching success, as well as a positive effect of egg size on both the proportion of eggs that developed and hatching success between females. Neither the proportion of eggs that developed nor hatching success varied according to time of season or weather conditions, clutch size, the age of either parent, the size of the male's black bib, female size, female heterozygosity or the genetic similarity between members of a pair. There was also no positional bias in the occurrence of undeveloped eggs, although undeveloped eggs were more common among birds nesting at low density. Our results suggest that hatching failure in house sparrows has few environmental components and is primarily influenced by intrinsic differences among individuals.