Risk of feather damage explain fault bar occurrence in a migrant hawk, the Swainson’s hawk Buteo swainsoni
SARASOLA, J.H. & R. JOVANI. 2006. Risk of feather damage explain fault bar occurrence in a migrant hawk, the Swainson’s hawk Buteo swainsoni. Journal of Avian Biology 37: 29-35.
Abstract: Fault bars are common stress-induced feather abnormalities that could produce feather damage thus reducing flight performance. For that reason, it has been hypothesized that birds may have evolved adaptive strategies that reduce the costs of fault bars (the ‘fault bar allocation hypothesis’). An untested prediction of this hypothesis is that fault bars in important feathers for flight (wing and tail) should be less abundant where they produce more feather damage. We tested such a prediction using moulted wing and tail feathers of the long-distance migrant Swainson’s hawk Buteo swainsoni in its Argentinean wintering quarters. We recorded the occurrence of fault bars of different strengths (light, medium and strong) and the damage (lost of a portion of the vane) produced by them. The occurrence of fault bars was very variable, with strong ones being rare throughout and light and medium fault bars being more frequent in the tail than in the wing. Risk of feather damage was similarly high and low across feather groups for strong and light fault bars, respectively, and higher in the wing than in the tail for medium strength. The occurrence of fault bars of different strengths on different feather groups was negatively correlated with their propensity to produce feather damage. At low damage risk (<5%), the occurrence of fault bars was highly variable depending on the feather group, but above 5% of feather damage the occurrence of fault bars was highly reduced throughout. Our results supports the ‘fault bar allocation hypothesis’ of natural selection reducing fault bar occurrence where fault bars are more risky, but further suggest that selection pressure could be relaxed in other instances, leaving the way free for other mechanisms to shape fault bar occurrence.
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