Biparental incubation is a common pattern of parental care in birds. Within species with biparental incubation, the contribution of each sex can vary widely. Many studies have addressed the factors that influence variation in female incubation behaviour, but the underlying causes of within-species variation in male incubation behaviour remain poorly understood. In this paper we analyse incubation behaviour in the Reed Warbler, a small, predominantly socially monogamous passerine nesting in reed beds. We examined the impact of time of day, weather conditions (ambient temperature, wind speed, rainfall) and progress of the breeding season on male and female incubation behaviour in 81 pairs of Reed Warbler breeding in the Barycz Valley (SW Poland). We found that females had on average higher nest attentiveness (total time spent incubating per hour) than their partners (47% vs. 29%) but mean incubation bout length (a single, uninterrupted stay at the nest) did not differ significantly between the sexes (9 min vs. 7 min). The two parents responded differently to changing environmental parameters. Female nest attentiveness was unaffected by date, time of the day, advancement of incubation and weather conditions, while males spent more time on the nest at higher wind speeds and lower temperatures. In contrast, male incubation bout length was not affected by these factors, whereas female bout length increased throughout the breeding season and was longer at lower temperatures. Incubation recesses (periods where both parents were off the nest) were longer during favourable weather conditions (at high temperatures and low wind), probably because cooling of the eggs takes much longer under such conditions and parents can spend more time foraging. A comparison of our results with those from other populations revealed important betweenpopulation and sex-specific differences in nest attentiveness expressed as the percentage of male/female time spent on the nest. We suggest that betweenpopulation variation may result from differences in habitat quality and/or food resources affecting the necessity of male contribution to parental care, variation in breeding synchrony and densities influencing male engagement in extra-pair copulations, differences in predation levels, or methodological differences.
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Vol. 103 • No. 1