First evidence of sex differences in the length of avian embryonic period: consequences for sibling competition in sexually dimorphic birds.
Parental favoritism in birds would be enhanced if parents can control any egg feature influencing the ontogeny of the embryo during incubation. Egg size and composition may influence the duration of incubation and hatching periods, and eggs bearing embryos of different sex may differ in size and composition. Therefore, the sex of the embryo could also influence its ontogeny before hatching. We tested this prediction by investigating the duration of the embryonic period of different-sex embryos in the Eurasian kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), a sexually dimorphic raptor in which adult females are approximately 20% heavier than are adult males. We found the first evidence of sex differences in the duration of the embryonic period in avian eggs. Female embryos had a shorter embryonic period than did male embryos, which allowed females to hatch earlier in the hatching sequence and assume a higher rank than that of males in the intrabrood size hierarchy. Embryos with a fast growth and development resulted in hatchlings with greater residual reserves and thus larger mass, which suggests that a shorter embryonic period requires less maintenance metabolism relative to growth. Our results also indicated that early hatching may be advantageous to gain a high rank in the size hierarchy within the brood independently of the effect of sex on fledgling mass. Sex differences in avian egg ontogeny may therefore be a factor shaping life-history traits associated with parental control of sibling competition, which should be addressed in any future work on optimal reproductive investment.