Relative importance of environmental variables in determining the growth of nestling Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor

John P. McCarty, David W. Winkler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Unpredictable, short-term changes in environmental conditions associated with weather patterns have severe impacts on the reproductive success of Tree Swallows Tachycineta bicolor, as well as other aerial insectivores. We examined the effects of day-to-day environmental variation on the growth of nestling Tree Swallows. Using path analysis, we compared the relative importance of changes in food availability, ambient temperature and wind speed on changes in mass and feather length over four years at our study site near Ithaca, New York. Changes in environmental conditions explained a significant amount of the variation in nestling growth, with daily high temperature having the greatest influence for nestlings younger than five days. Both food supply and temperature had significant direct effects on growth of nestlings older than nine days, with temperature also having a significant indirect effect through its influence on food availability. For both young and old chicks, mass gains were smaller for chicks hatched later in the season. Environmental conditions also explained a significant amount of the linear growth of the ninth primary feather in one of two years, with food supply showing the most consistent positive effect. Environmental conditions several days prior to the measurements significantly influenced feather growth, indicating that the effects of adverse conditions are spread out over several days of feather growth, but this effect was not seen for change in mass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)286-296
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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