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Parental care in northern flickers: sex-related patterns of foraging, provisioning, and habitat use



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The sexes have different life histories that can influence their parental care strategies. I studied northern flicker, Colaptes auratus, parents and simultaneously radio-tracked mates during the nestling and post-fledging periods. I tested hypotheses about sex differences in parental care strategies by examining foraging patterns, provisioning effort and habitat use. Males and females used the same microhabitats, but avoided overlap of their foraging areas on the home range consistent with the hypothesis that mates separate the home range to reduce competition. During temporary (i.e., 24 hr) brood size manipulations, both parents decreased provisioning to reduced broods, but did not increase provisioning to enlarged broods or alter their foraging pattern on the landscape. I suggest flickers were energy limited and were incapable or unwilling to respond to increased brood demands. During the post-fledging period, males spent more time near their fledglings, and cared for their fledglings longer than females (16 days versus 12 days, respectively). Approximately 36% of females abandoned their brood in the post-fledging period and females with high levels of feather corticosterone were more likely to abandon. Older males and those with high provisioning rates in the nestling period fed their fledglings longer. Nearly 45% of fledglings died within the first week after leaving the nest, but survival was higher for fledglings with intermediate body mass and those that occupied areas of dense cover. Families moved a greater distance from the nest during the first 4 days post-fledging when there was less tree cover within 250 m of the nest site. Parents brought fledglings to areas with dense vegetation within the first week post-fledging, but subsequently shifted to open grassland habitats. My results show that parents invest in their offspring indirectly by taking them to habitats that increase survival. This research stresses the importance of studying parental care during the post-fledging period to gain a more complete understanding of the total parental investment of males versus females and how each sex may react differently to trade-offs between investing in the current brood versus self-maintenance.



parental care, Colaptes auratus, foraging, post-fledgling period, survival, radio-telemetry, sex differences, feather corticosterone



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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