Brood amalgamation in the Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis: process and function

By: , and 



Alloparental care in birds generally involves nonbreeding adults that help at nests or breeding adults that help raise young in communal nests. A less often reported form involves the amalgamation of broods, where one or more adults care for young that are not their own. We observed this phenomenon among Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis broods in western Alaska during 1990–1992. Amalgamation of broods generally involved the formation of temporary and extended associations. Temporary associations were formed by the incidental convergence of broods soon after they left their nests. During this period, parents defended distinct brood-rearing areas, were antagonistic to conspecifics and remained together for less than 3 days. Extended associations formed when chicks were 1–2 weeks old. Here, parents and their broods occupied distinct, but adjacent, brood-rearing areas and moved around as a unit. Whether a brood participated in either temporary or extended associations or remained solitary appeared to depend on brood density in the immediate area and on hatching date. When chicks were 3–4 weeks old, aggregations of up to ten broods formed wherein young mixed and parents defended a common brood-rearing area. All broods (n = 48) that survived to fledging joined such aggregations. Alloparental care involved only antipredator defence and was not associated with activities such as feeding and brooding. Most female parents abandoned their broods shortly after the young could fly and when aggregations were forming. The female parent of a pair always deserted its young before or on the same day as the male parent and, in every aggregation, one or two males continued to tend young for about 5 days longer than other male parents. In most cases, adults deserted the young 2–6 days before the young departed the area when about 38 days old. Bristle-thighed Curlews also formed temporary associations with American and Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica and Pluvialis fulva, Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus, Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, Western Sandpiper Cal-idris mauri and Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus. Curlews and other larger bodied species commonly attack-mobbed predators together, whereas smaller bodied species generally gave alarm calls and circled the predators. For all species, the intensity of antipredator defence by attending adults gradually decreased as young became older and aggregations formed. We suggest that amalgamation of broods among Bristle-thighed Curlew enhances predator defence, aids in the process of flock formation for migrating young, and allows females and some males to desert their young earlier.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Brood amalgamation in the Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis: process and function
Series title Ibis
DOI 10.1111/j.1474-919X.1995.tb03267.x
Volume 137
Issue 4
Year Published 1995
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 559
Last page 569
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Kougarok River drainage