Numerous studies have identified factors that control avian hematozoan infections, but the mechanisms that account for host differences in parasitemia remain largely speculative. To address this issue, we compared the prevalence of these parasites in stained blood smears from four conspecific Sonoran desert Aimophila sparrow species sampled during their breeding season: rufous-winged (Aimophila carpalis; RWSP), rufous-crowned (Aimophila ruficeps; RCSP), Cassin's (Aimophila cassinii, CASP), and Botteri's (Aimophila botterii; BOSP) sparrows. Blood smears contained Haemoproteus fringillae (RWSP), Trypanosoma everetti (RWSP, RCSP, BOSP), Trypanosoma avium (CASP), and microfilariae (all species). Most (92.5%) RWSP (n=40) were infected with Haemoproteus, but this parasite was not detected in RCSP (n=20) or BOSP (n=20) and was found only in one (2.5%) CASP (n =40). Trypanosoma spp. and microfilariae were detected in all species, but prevalence differed between these four sparrow species. Species differences in parasite prevalence were not due to difference in sex, age, adult body mass, incubation period, breeding habitat, or plumage colorfulness. However, differences in Haemoproteus sp. prevalence correlated with preferred nesting height, as RWSP generally nest above ground, whereas the other species nest on or close to the ground. Elevated H. fringillae prevalence in breeding-condition RWSP presumably does not result from a seasonal relapse associated with breeding or require new infection because 1) this prevalence did not differ in males sampled during and outside (n=21) the breeding season, and 2) all male RWSP (n=25) that we held in captivity and shielded from new infections and influence of natural photoperiod for 1 yr had viable blood H. fringillae gametocytes. H. fringillae prevalence in fall-sampled hatch-year male RWSP (n =11) was 63.6%, demonstrating that this parasite can be transmitted on the breeding grounds and during the first months of life. T. everetti prevalence in RWSP was lower in winter than in summer and also in long-term captive than in free-ranging adults. Presence of this parasite in the blood of breeding males may depend on recrudescence of existing infections or new infections.
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Vol. 41 • No. 3