Parent birds face a tradeoff between spending time incubating their eggs and foraging. The duration and frequency of breaks taken by incubating parents are potentially influenced by the ambient temperature, which affects both egg cooling rate and parental metabolism. We used remote temperature data loggers to obtain an extensive, continuous sample of incubation recesses, or off-bouts, taken by female Carolina Chickadees (Poecile carolinensis). We found that as ambient temperature increased, off-bout duration increased while off-bout frequency decreased. However, this relationship between ambient temperature and off-bout characteristics was not present at extremely cold or warm temperatures. Female chickadees also shortened the duration of off-bouts as embryos aged, and took fewer, longer off-bouts in the dark than during daylight. Our results suggest that the timing of off-bouts is influenced by the energetic constraints imposed by ambient temperature, although further research on nighttime incubation is needed. This study provides new information about the incubation behavior of Carolina Chickadees and helps clarify the complex influence of temperature on the balance between investment in offspring versus self-maintenance in intermittently incubating birds.
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