Patient Parents: Do Offspring Decide on the Timing of Fledging in Zebra Finches?

Fritz Trillmich*, Inka Spiller, Marc Naguib, Eike Tobias Krause

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Parent-offspring conflict over parental care is predicted to become most pronounced during offspring transition to independence when offspring are predicted to attempt to extend care for longer than parents are selected to provide it. However, on the proximate level, it is difficult to determine who plays the most important role in this process, parents or offspring. For several vertebrate taxa, it has been documented that parents end brood care by abandoning offspring after a fixed period or else show high flexibility in the duration of care, but teasing apart the role of offspring and parents underlying this flexibility has been difficult. Here, we studied the decision to fledge in captive zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), an altricial songbird. We experimentally delayed the time of fledging to determine who decides about the end of feeding inside the nest, parents or offspring. The experiment indicates that parents do not primarily rely on phenotypic offspring traits in their decision to feed offspring in the nest, but appear to adjust the duration of parental care as long as offspring are in the nest which parents may take as an indicator of offspring need and locomotor abilities. Delayed-fledging offspring appeared not to suffer a disadvantage in terms of age at the onset of independent feeding. Our study suggests that, in zebra finches, offspring play a major role in determining the time of fledging and leave the nest on their own, possibly to reduce the risk of nest predation, or to evade sibling competition in the nest.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)411-418
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Parent-offspring conflict
  • Parental care
  • Timing of fledging
  • Transition to independence
  • Weaning

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