Incubation parameters, offspring growth, and behavioral adaptations to heat stress of Black Skimmers
This study focuses on incubation parameters, egg morphometrics, and body mass development, hatching, and behavioral adaptations to heat stress within a colony of freshwater-breeding Black Skimmers (Rynchops niger) located in the private nature reserve of Serviço Social do Comércio (SESC) in the northern Pantanal, Mato Grosso, Brazil. Temperatures of nest, eggs, and surface substratum, as well as the development of embryos, were surveyed using thermal imaging, a method allowing digital recording from a distance and in a fraction of the time of traditional measuring techniques. The mean egg dimensions (n = 71) were 4.48 (± 0.13) × 3.27 (± 0.07) cm; the mean mass at hatching was 24.3 (± 1.9) g, with a significant decrease over incubation time. The mean surface temperature of eggs varied from 30.9℃ to 39.7℃, while the sand surface temperature was 20℃ at 06:00 h, rising to 47.7℃ at 11:00 h. There was a significant increase (7%) in egg surface temperature throughout incubation. Incubation-bout durations (n = 2108) were correlated with the microclimatic conditions of the substratum, becoming shorter with increasing sand-surface temperature around midday. Egg hatching lasted one day, and siblings hatched no more than 24 h apart. The mean body mass on Day 1 after hatching was 16.8 (± 1.6) g (n = 6). Three days after hatching, chicks moved to new sand depressions provided by parents near the original nest, where they remained motionless or tried to hide under riparian vegetation. The single chick that fledged had a growth rate of K = 0.117 and a t₁₀₋₉₀ value of 37.3 days. On Day 7, dorsal pintail feathers and primaries appeared, which were open on Day 15. After 14 days, the chick was able to regulate its body temperature, and no more feeding by parental birds during the daytime was observed. On Day 21, the immature plumage was fully developed. Fledging was completed on Day 27. Our study demonstrates that thermal imaging is a useful method of surveying egg and embryo development in the Black Skimmer, reducing nest disturbance and observation efforts.