Birds in which only one sex incubates the eggs are often faced with a direct conflict between foraging to meet metabolic needs and incubation. Knowledge of environmental and ecological factors that shape life-history strategies of incubation is limited. We used continuous videography to make precise measurements of female Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) incubation constancy (percentage of time spent at the nest in a 24-hour period) and recess duration. We used an information-theoretic approach to evaluate incubation patterns in relation to grouse age, timing of incubation, raven abundance, microhabitat, weather, and food availability. Overall, sage-grouse females showed an incubation constancy of 96% and a distinctive bimodal distribution of brief incubation recesses that peaked at sunset and 30 min prior to sunrise. Grouse typically returned to their nests during low light conditions. Incubation constancy of yearlings was lower than that of adults, particularly in the later stages of incubation. Yearlings spent more time away from nests later in the morning and earlier in the evening compared to adults. Video images revealed that nearly all predation events by Common Ravens (Corvus corax), the most frequently recorded predator at sage-grouse nests, took place during mornings and evenings after sunrise and before sunset, respectively. These were the times of the day when sage-grouse typically returned from incubation recesses. Recess duration was negatively related to raven abundance. We found evidence that incubation constancy increased with greater visual obstruction, usually from vegetation, of nests. An understanding of how incubation patterns relate to environmental factors will help managers make decisions aimed at increasing productivity through successful incubation.
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Vol. 110 • No. 4