Maternal Behavior In Birds

Birds express a diversity of parental styles: nest parasitism, maternal care, paternal care, and biparental care. Paternal care in birds is more common than in mammals, and 90% of bird species show paternal behavior. Birds need to provision their chicks after hatching because, with the exception of some birds (e.g., pigeon) that produce crop milk, they are unable to feed their young from their own bodily resources. Maternal behavior in birds is affected by the risks of the environment, the social group, and the stage of development of the chicks at hatch. Species that hatch altricial chicks (blind, featherless) require biparental care to ensure the survival of the young by providing food simultaneously with keeping the chicks warm and protected. Bird species that hatch precocious chicks (e.g., galliforms) can show just maternal behavior, because the hen is able to rear her chicks without paternal assistance.

Maternal behavior commences before lay with the selection of a nest site and the construction of a nest. After egg-laying, the eggs are incubated and the hen shows broodiness, crouching over the eggs and emitting specific clucks or vocalizations. In some species a brood patch develops: An area of the chest becomes highly vascular-ized and devoid of feathers to enhance heat transfer to the eggs and chicks. After hatch, precocial chicks imprint onto their mothers and accompany her immediately. Maternal behaviors are concerned with defense against predators, ensuring that the chicks remain with her, and teaching the chicks about appropriate food sources: what to eat, where to find it, and how to obtain it. Parents of altricial chicks also show defense of the nest and chicks against predators, and are strongly motivated to feed the chicks by their gaping mouths.

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