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The vigilance components of begging and sibling competition


A. N. Dreiss, Dept of Ecology and Evolution, Univ. of Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail:


The conflict between siblings over how parental resources are divided has promoted the evolution of specific behaviour to outcompete each other. Young animals look out for parents’ arrival in order to start begging as quickly as possible, since a rapid begging reaction increases the likelihood of being fed before nestmates. If the young can physically intercept the parents, selection might be operating on the offspring ability to monitor parent arrival (vigilance towards parents) and any sudden modifications in siblings’ behaviour (vigilance towards siblings). To investigate the adaptive value of nestling vigilance in the context of family interactions, we recorded which direction barn owl Tyto alba siblings were facing in 89 two-chick broods before the first parental feeding visit of the night. Nestlings were more vigilant towards nest entrance than expected by chance suggesting that vigilance towards parents is an important component of sibling competition. When positioned near the nest-box entrance where parents predictably deliver food, the younger individual (i.e. junior) looked more towards the entrance than its older sibling. Thus, when the likelihood of obtaining a food item is relatively high, juniors are more vigilant than seniors to detect the incoming parent. When positioned at the back of the nest, the senior looked relatively more frequently towards its sibling than the junior did in the same situation. This suggests that when the likelihood of obtaining a food item is relatively low, seniors are more vigilant than juniors to observe their sibling. Because vigilance was not related to hunger level and prey obtaining, we propose the hypothesis that vigilance towards parents and siblings only indirectly influences the outcome of sibling competition.