Although the costs of parental care are at the foundations of optimal-parental-investment theory, our understanding of the nature of the underlying costs is limited by the difficulty of measuring variation in foraging effort. We simultaneously measured parental provisioning and foraging behavior in a free-living population of Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) using an electronic monitoring system. We fitted 145 adults with a passive transponder tag and remotely recorded their visits to nest boxes and feeders continuously over a 2-month period. After validating the accuracy of this monitoring system, we studied how provisioning and foraging activities varied through time (day and breeding cycle) and influenced the benefits (food received by the offspring) and costs (interclutch interval) of parental care. The provisioning rates of wild Zebra Finches were surprisingly low, with an average of only one visit per hour throughout the day. This was significantly lower than those reported for this model species in captivity and for most other passerines in the wild. Nest visitation rate only partially explained the amount of food received by the young, with parental foraging activity, including the minimum distance covered on foraging trips, being better predictors. Parents that sustained higher foraging activity and covered more distance during the first breeding attempt took longer to renest. These results demonstrate that in some species matching foraging activity with offspring provisioning may provide a better estimate of the true investment that individuals commit to a reproductive attempt.
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Vol. 128 • No. 1