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Low-temperature nights delay the timing of breeding in a wild songbird

Cite this dataset

Lv, Lei; Merilä, Juha; Liu, Yang; Liu, Chen-yang (2022). Low-temperature nights delay the timing of breeding in a wild songbird [Dataset]. Dryad.


Global climate change has posed widespread challenges to the ecological process critical to the fitness of many wild organisms, such as reproductive phenology. Many bird species have advanced their reproductive phenology in response to the increases in spring temperatures. However, the mechanism of how climate influences the timing of breeding is still often unclear in many species. We explored the relationship between the timing of breeding and spring temperatures based on 14 years of data on Hair-Crested Drongos (Dicrurus hottentottus) in the wild. By applying a ‘sliding window’ approach, we aimed to identify the time window and weather variable that best explains the timing of breeding at both population and individual levels. We found that the more nights with a minimum temperature below 17, around three weeks earlier than the peak reproduction, delayed the breeding time. Low night temperatures may force females to allocate more energy to thermoregulation and therefore physiologically constrain egg-laying. Although annual minimum and maximum temperatures have increased over the study period, the timing of breeding showed no trend as there was no change in the number of low-temperature nights in the relevant period across years. The repeatability of the laying date for individual females (R = 0.211) and across the years (R = 0.270) were low indicating that Drongos were flexible in adjusting their breeding phenology to environmental variation. These results suggest an effect of low night temperature on avian breeding phenology. This effect may apply commonly across bird species considering shared physiological constraints.


Nests were systematically searched from the entire study area in each season. Once located, we visited each nest regularly, usually every 1–3 days, for recording the laying date (i.e. the date of the first egg in each clutch). Females lay one egg per day until the clutch is full. Clutch size ranges from 2 to 5, with the mode at 4 eggs. Adult Drongos were captured by mist-netting, either during the incubation or nestling provisioning periods near their nesting trees. Captured adults were marked with a metal ring and a unique combination of colour rings. Adults were sexed based on the size of their brood patches: Females have much larger brood patches than males. We placed high-resolution video cameras (Sony HDR-160E or HDR-260E) at around 20 meters from the nest to determine the identity of the adults. None of the nests were abandoned because of the monitoring.


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: No. 3207030250

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: No. 3170120109 to L.L.