How experience shapes avian nest construction
Like all animal architects, birds face a number of decisions when constructing their nests: for example, where to nest, which material to use, and what type of structure to build. While ~150 years of observational and experimental data show that experience plays a role in birds' nest building (read my review paper, here), we still know very little about how birds 'know' how to construct a nest.
Using the zebra finch as a model study system, I design experiments in the laboratory to carefully tease apart how the social and physical environment affect avian nest construction (see my nest-building research illustrated, here).
I use video recording and behavioural scoring software to capture the behaviour of birds in unprecedented detail, and I analyse these data using cutting-edge statistical techniques. Key findings from my research on nest-building birds are:
1) Adult and raw-material access in early life interactively influence builder-bird phenotype (i.e., material preference and construction speed) - read the publication, here.
2) Both construction artefacts (nests) and an unfamiliar, non-natal environment can influence novice builder-birds’ choice of nest material - read the publication, here.
3) Differences in nest-material rigidity are linked to differences in birds’ reproductive success (fledglings produced) - publication out soon!
Thus, my research has revealed social (e.g., adult presence) and ecological (e.g., nest-material physical properties) drivers - in both early and adult life - of variation in birds’ nest building, and animal material technology more generally.