Variation in Incubation Length and Hatching Asynchrony in Eastern Kingbirds: Weather Eclipses Female Effects

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Incubation length and hatching asynchrony are integral elements of the evolved reproductive strategies of birds. We examined intra- and interpopulation variation in both traits for Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) populations from New York (NY), Kansas (KS), and Oregon (OR) and found that both incubation length and hatching asynchrony were not repeatable among females, after controlling for a repeatable trait, clutch size. Instead, incubation length and clutch size were influenced by ambient temperature and precipitation. Incubation length exhibited the same median (15 days) and range (13–17 days) at all sites. Model selection results indicated that incubation periods for the smallest and largest clutches were longer in NY than KS when rain was frequent throughout incubation, in replacement nests, and likely when ambient temperatures were low during egg-laying. Full hatching usually required 2 days (but up to 3), with synchronous hatching associated with small clutch sizes, short incubation periods, frequent rain during the egg-laying period, and low ambient temperatures during the first half of incubation. Nestling starvation was uncommon (5–9% of nestlings monitored) and not associated with greater hatching asynchrony. These results indicate that while clutch size, a repeatable female trait, contributed to variation in incubation length and hatching asynchrony in Eastern Kingbirds, weather was a greater source of variation, especially for incubation length.


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