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An Observation Of Parental Infanticide In Dickcissels (Spiza Americana): Video Evidence And Potential Mechanisms

Jaime J. Coon, S. B. Nelson, A. West, Iris A. Bradley, J. Miller
Published 2018 · Biology

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ABSTRACT Brood reduction by parents via infanticide is considered rare in passerine birds; however, this behavior may be underreported because of the difficulties observing behaviors at the nest and because researchers tend to attribute partial nestling loss to other causes. Here, we report a confirmed incidence of parental infanticide by Dickcissels (Spiza americana). While video-recording parental behavior, we documented a 4-day-old nestling being removed by a female Dickcissel. This bird was also observed brooding and feeding, so this event was likely a parental infanticide. We subsequently examined monitoring data from 162 hatched Dickcissel nests across 2 breeding seasons to identify instances of unexplained partial nestling loss, which could potentially be attributable to infanticide. Our data indicate that 9.1–12.7% of hatched nests experienced these events. Infanticide by genetic parents could (1) benefit survival of remaining brood mates by reducing food requirements, disease, or predation risk; (2) represent responses to cuckoldry or intraspecific brood parasitism; (3) represent cases of mistaken chick identity; or (4) be triggered by unusual stressors. We recommend that ecologists monitoring bird nests consider infanticide as a possible explanation for partial nestling loss. Received 3 November 2016. Accepted 27 November 2017.
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