Temperature effects on food supply and chick mortality in tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)

Winkler, D. W., Luo, M. K. & Rakhimberdiev, E., Sep-2013, In : Oecologia. 173, 1, p. 129-138 10 p.

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Tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) breeding success in Ithaca, NY, USA, over the past quarter century has shown generally healthy fledgling production punctuated by years of high nestling mortality. This study tested the potential effects that temperature may have on the food supply and breeding success of swallows. Data from 17 years of daily insect samples were used to relate flying insect abundances to daily maximum temperatures and to define "cold snaps" as strings of consecutive days when the maximum temperatures did not exceed critical temperatures. The distributions of cold snaps and chick mortality events were investigated both through detailed reconstructions of the fates and fate dates of individual chicks, focused on the three breeding seasons of lowest fledging success, and with less detailed brood-level analyses of a larger 11-year dataset including years of more moderate mortality. Mark-recapture analyses of daily brood survival rate (DSR) reveal very strong support for the effects of cold temperatures on brood survival rates, and all the top models agree on a critical temperature of 18.5 °C for insect flight activity in Ithaca. The individual-level analyses, focused on years of higher mortality, favored a 3-day cold snap definition as the most predictive of DSR effects, whereas the larger-scale brood-level analyses revealed 1- and 2-day cold snaps as having the most significant effects on DSR. Regardless, all analyses reveal that, in an age of generally warmer climates, the largest effect of weather on swallow fledgling production is from cold temperatures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-138
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sep-2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Brood survival, Cold snaps, Daily survival rates, Insect abundance, Passerine bird

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