Female but not male zebra finches adjust heat output in response to increased incubation demand

DL Hill, J Lindstrom, DJ McCafferty, RG Nager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
61 Downloads (Pure)


In many incubating birds heat transfer from parent to egg is facilitated by the brood patch, an area of ventral abdominal skin that becomes highly vascularised, swells and loses its down feathers around the time of laying. Only the female develops a brood patch in most passerine species, but some males incubate and maintain the eggs at similar temperatures to females without a brood patch. Here we used a novel application of infra-red thermography (IRT) to examine sex differences in parental care from a physiological perspective. Using incubating male and female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), a species in which the male lacks a brood patch, we measured the surface temperature of the ventral plumage overlying the abdomen and a reference area that does not contact the eggs (thorax) twice per pair. In half of the pairs clutch size was experimentally enlarged between the two sets of measurements to increase incubation demand. We found that the temperature differential between abdomen and thorax plumage was greater in females than in males, and that abdomen plumage was warmer after clutch enlargement than before it in females but not in males. These findings are consistent with morphological sex differences in brood patch development and suggest that male and female zebra finches differ in the way they regulate abdomen versus general body surface temperature in response to variation in incubation demand.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1326 - 1332
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Publication statusPrint publication - 2014


  • Brood patch
  • Clutch size manipulation
  • IRT
  • Infra-red thermography
  • Parental care
  • Taeniopygia guttata


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