Effects of early nutrition on growth rate and adult size in song sparrows Melospiza melodia

William A. Searcy, Susan Peters, Stephen Nowicki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


We manipulated the quantity of food provided to hand-reared song sparrows Melospiza melodia from 3 to 18 days post-hatching, a period when young birds in the wild are especially likely to experience nutritional stress. A control group was given unlimited food, while an experimental group was limited to 60% of the intake of the controls. Both groups showed excellent survival. The controls had significantly higher growth rates than the experimentals and fledged significantly earlier. At the end of treatment, controls were significantly larger than experimentals in body mass, tarsus length, and length of the third primary. After treatment ended, when all birds were receiving the same diet, both groups showed a recession in body mass, but the amount of mass lost was significantly greater in the controls. Consequently the difference in body mass between the treatment groups was much reduced after the period of weight recession. As adults, the controls were significantly larger than experimentals in a principal component measure of size that combined six post-mortem bone measurements. Controls and experimentals did not differ in the number of fault bars in tail feathers grown in part during the period of nutritional manipulation, nor did they differ in the degree of asymmetry in bone measurements. We conclude that early nutrition affects growth rates in young song sparrows, with effects on skeletal size that carry over into adulthood. These results are consistent with the nutritional stress hypothesis, which posits that early nutrition affects adult phenotypic quality as well as display attributes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-279
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of early nutrition on growth rate and adult size in song sparrows Melospiza melodia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this