Honest begging in the blue-footed booby: signaling food deprivation and body condition

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To determine whether solicitation by blue-footed booby chicks accurately encodes their need for food, we independently manipulated the body condition and recent food ingestion of singleton chicks and recorded three measures of begging. Variations in the three measures of begging covaried only partially, but in general, chicks begged more intensely when they were in poor body condition and also when suffering recent food deprivation. Effects of body condition and recent food deprivation on begging were broadly additive, although deprived chicks in poor condition failed to beg more intensely than those in good condition. Protracted short-term deprivation may create such a high level of need that the body condition component of need becomes temporarily unimportant. Parents more frequently fed chicks that begged more intensely, chicks in poor condition, and chicks suffering food deprivation. Deprived chicks in poor condition received more food than deprived chicks in normal condition even though they did not beg more intensely, possibly because parents responded not only to current begging but also to begging earlier in the day, or to other cues to body condition. These results support the hypothesis that begging of boobies represents honest signaling of need.

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