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The Influence of Weather On Incubation Scheduling of the White-Rumped Sandpiper (Calidris Fuscicollis): a Uniparental Incubator in a Cold Environment

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We studied the incubation scheduling of 8 white-rumped sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis), a species in which only the female incubates. Because the female is small and nests in the high arctic, these birds are probably under more cold stress than birds nesting in the temperate zone. We examined the individual and collective effects of several weather variables on a female's incubation behaviour to ascertain what amount of the variability within a day was directly attributable to weather conditions. Birds made an average of 25.1 off-nest trips each day, averaging 10.5 min each. This resulted in spending, on average, 82.5% of their time incubating eggs. There was a clear within-day cycle in incubation scheduling; birds made more and longer trips in the middle of the day and, as a result, spent more total time off the nest in that period. Birds adjusted their hour-by-hour schedules to weather largely by altering the number of trips made, and less so by adjusting trip length. There was a circadian rhythm in recess time/h, explaining at least 11% of the variation in recess time/h. When the circadian rhythm was controlled statistically, weather accounted for an average of 38% of the explainable variation in recess time/h. The relative importance of each weather variable on the recess time/h was (in descending order of importance): wind speed, air temperature, solar radiation, barometric pressure, and relative humidity. Weather (primarily wind speed and temperature) exerted its strongest effects early and late in the bird's active day (0400-2300 h). On cold and windy days, birds increased the time spent on their nests early and late in the day, and made more trips than usual in the middle of the day, when air temperature was highest. We suggest that the incubation scheduling of these birds conformed to the long-term predictability of the daily weather cycle by following a circadian rhythm of behaviour modified by a response to concurrent weather that would have reduced egg cooling.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6

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