Date of wing molt initiation, based on the regression of tenth primary length on capture date, was calculated for breeding and nonbreeding Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus columbianus) on the Colville River Delta, Alaska. Breeding females initiated wing molt significantly later than breeding males and nonbreeding males and females; the molt of breeding females was correlated with the date on which their eggs hatched. Breeding males did not differ significantly from nonbreeding males and females in the date of molt initiation. Timing of molt in breeding males and females was consistent with the views that females delay molt while replenishing energy spent on reproduction, but was also consistent with the breeding pair's need for primaries to defend territories and to defend and brood young. Other results, including an increase in an index of female body condition throughout most of the molt period, and a positive correlation between clutch size and female hatch-to-molt interval, were not predicted by the hypothesis that past energy expenditures constrain the timing of molt. Patterns of wing molt within and among other Northern Hemisphere geese and swans are also difficult to explain on the basis of energetics alone. For example, breeding females initiate molt before breeding males in many species. Also, there is extreme asynchrony between mates in two swan species; one of those species also exhibits variation in which sex initiates wing molt first. Both patterns suggest that asynchrony, per se, is important, probably to facilitate brood protection or territory defense. In Tundra Swans and other northern breeding geese and swans, the non-energetic demands of territory defense, brood defense, and brooding are probably important constraints on the timing of wing molt.
Additional publication details
The timing of wing molt in tundra swans: energetic and non-energetic constraints