Many species of birds line their nests with feathers, presumably because of the insulative qualities of feathers and because feathers may act as a barrier between nest parasites and nestlings. In 1993, we experimentally examined the role of feathers as nest insulation on the incubation behavior, nestling growth, and reproductive performance of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) nesting in boxes in western Michigan. There were no significant differences between the incubation rhythms of females with experimental nests (i.e. no feathers) and females with control nests (i.e. with feathers). Nestlings that were reared in control nests had significantly longer right tarsi and right wing chords; their masses were significantly greater than nestlings reared in experimental nests. In addition, nested analyses of variance indicated that both female age class (i.e. second year, after second year, or after hatching year) and the brood within which a nestling was reared had significant effects on nestling growth until nestling day 12. Whether an individual nestling was infected with ectoparasites was independent of whether it was reared in an experimental or control nest. Nest insulation affected reproductive performance: females with experimental nests had significantly longer incubation periods and produced significantly fewer fledglings than did females with control nests. These results suggest that nest insulation may be an important factor influencing incubation behavior, nestling growth, and reproductive performance of Tree Swallows in western Michigan
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