Repeatable nest defense behavior in a wild population of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) as evidence of personality

Research paper by Jennifer L. Burtka, Jennifer L. Grindstaff

Indexed on: 22 Jan '13Published on: 22 Jan '13Published in: acta ethologica


Consistent individual differences in behavior, or personality, have been demonstrated in a variety of species other than humans, including mammals, birds, and invertebrates. Behavioral consistency has been shown to affect dispersal, foraging, exploration, and antipredator responses, which may have an impact on parental and offspring survival. Despite increasing research in behavioral consistency, the repeatability of nest defense behavior has rarely been assessed in wild bird populations. Furthermore, previous studies investigating nest defense behavior have utilized laboratory studies or mounted predators to elicit defensive behavior. It is important to assess personality in wild populations to fully understand the fitness consequences of behavioral consistency across natural contexts and to utilize live predators or competitors for accurate assessment of defensive behavior. We used an ecologically relevant, live, invasive, nest site competitor, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus), to elicit nest defense behavior in a wild population of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) to determine if nest defense behavior is repeatable within and between years for males and females (males: 2009, N = 17; 2010, N = 18; both years, N = 9. Females: 2009, N = 22; 2010, N = 15; both years, N = 11). We also determined if individual behavior changes as a function of season, parental age, brood size, or the number of house sparrows around the nest site. We found that females demonstrated repeatable behavior both within and between years. Male nest defense behavior was only repeatable in 1 year and was influenced by season in the other year. Parental age, brood size, and the number of house sparrows around the nest site did not affect nest defense behavior. We conclude that Eastern bluebirds demonstrate consistent nest defense behavior, or personality, although males are more plastic than females.