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The effects of nest size and insulation on thermal properties of tree swallow nests


D. R. Ardia, Dept of Biology, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA 17604, USA. E-mail:


The nest environment can have important influences on incubation behavior and nestling development in birds. Nest thermal properties, particularly nest composition and size, can have a major influence on heat loss. To examine the role of nest size and insulation on clutch cooling rates, we collected tree swallow Tachycineta bicolor nests and measured the cooling rate of eggs in a controlled thermal environment. We also examined the thermal benefits of nest feathers by comparing the cooling rates of nests with and without feathers. Nests with more feather insulation and heavier, deeper cupped nests cooled at slower rates. In addition, nests with feathers cooled at much slower rates than did the same nests without feathers. Our results show that nest insulation and size play important roles in nest cooling rates, which may ultimately affect incubation costs and thus reproductive performance.