Parents may be in conflict over the care they provide to their offspring. To understand this conflict, an accurate description of who does what and when is necessary. We used an automated system to continuously monitor which parent incubated the eggs in an arctic breeding shorebird. Birds sat on the eggs around 11 h at a time, but females sat longer than males. In compensation, females were off-duty more when feeding was easier.
In biparental species, parents may be in conflict over how much they invest into their offspring. To understand this conflict, parental care needs to be accurately measured, something rarely done. Here, we quantitatively describe the outcome of parental conflict in terms of quality, amount, and timing of incubation throughout the 21-day incubation period in a population of semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) breeding under continuous daylight in the high Arctic. Incubation quality, measured by egg temperature and incubation constancy, showed no marked difference between the sexes. The amount of incubation, measured as length of incubation bouts, was on average 51min longer per bout for females (11.5h) than for males (10.7h), at first glance suggesting that females invested more than males. However, this difference may have been offset by sex differences in the timing of incubation; females were more often off nest during the warmer period of the day, when foraging conditions were presumably better. Overall, the daily timing of incubation shifted over the incubation period (e.g., for female incubation from evening–night to night–morning) and over the season, but varied considerably among pairs. At one extreme, pairs shared the amount of incubation equally, but one parent always incubated during the colder part of the day; at the other extreme, pairs shifted the start of incubation bouts between days so that each parent experienced similar conditions across the incubation period. Our results highlight how the simultaneous consideration of different aspects of care across time allows sex-specific investment to be more accurately quantified.