New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2005) 29(2): 243- 250

Effect of the blood-sucking mite Ornithonyssus bursa on chick growth and fledging age in the North Island robin

Research Article
Åsa Berggren 1,2
  1. Ecology Group, Massey University, Private Bag 11 222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
  2. Current address: Department of Entomology, PO Box 7044, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden

Pathological consequences of the blood-sucking mite Ornithonyssus bursa vary between species, with its impact ranging from no measurable effect, to significant blood loss and chick mortality. In New Zealand, where several bird species are known to be parasitised by O.bursa, the effect of this mite on host fitness is unclear, as few studies have been carried out. During a three-year study of the North Island robin Petroica longipes on Tiritiri Matangi Island, the prevalence of O. bursa in robin nests and on chicks and its impact on robin chick growth and survival was measured. The presence of mites was correlated with both time of the season and humidity of the habitat, with infestation being positively correlated with later nesting attempts and more humid microclimates. Robin chicks in infested nests were significantly smaller and fledged at an earlier age than chicks in nests where no mites were detected. Despite this effect, no significant difference in body size or survival was detected between the two groups at one month post-fledging. This was most likely because chicks from mite- infested nests compensated for their retarded growth once they left the nest environment. On mainland New Zealand, where ground-dwelling mammalian predators are present, chicks forced to leave the nest at an earlier age with less developed flying skills may be at an increased risk of predation.