Variation in growth of nestling tree swallows across multiple temporal and spatial scales

J. P. McCarty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


Differences within a species in rates of growth of nestlings can be used as indicators of the quality of parental care, environmental conditions, and future success of offspring, whereas comparisons among different species may reflect a history of different ecological conditions or life-history strategies. The present study examines the patterns of variation in growth in nestling Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) from across the species' range and compares Tree Swallows to other species. Growth of Tree Swallows was typical of other species in the family Hirundinidae. As a family, the Hirundinidae have slower growth than typical for passerines. Growth rate of species of Hirundinidae was not correlated with adult body mass or average brood size. Contrary to predictions, species that are double-brooded did not have higher growth rates, but swallow species living at higher latitudes did have higher growth rates than tropical species. Substantial variation in growth rates was observed among populations of Tree Swallows, yet the amount of variation observed between breeding colonies only a few kilometers apart, or from the same colony in different years, was as great as that seen in populations separated by hundreds of kilometers. Within a population, differences in growth among years were correlated with temperature and food supply when nestlings were being raised. No correlation between climate and growth was seen when comparing different populations. Differences between populations were not explained by local habitat, nor were large-scale geographic patterns evident. I used both experimental and observational evidence to evaluate the implications of short-term reduction in growth for subsequent growth and survival. Nestlings were slow to recover from even very short periods of delayed growth that occur early in the nestling phase. Return of nestlings with experimentally or naturally induced delayed growth was reduced, which suggests that short interruptions in growth may have long term effects on postfledging survival, even though mass at fledging is not affected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)176-190
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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