Habitat quality, nestling diet, and provisioning behaviour in great tits Parus major
Wilkin TA., King LE., Sheldon BC.
Variation in early nutrition is often a strong predictor of offspring condition and fitness. In the case of woodland passerine birds, nestling diet is determined by the spatiotemporal distribution of prey items such as caterpillars during the nestling period, and is usually quantified as differences in provisioning behaviour between habitats. However, the habitat level does not account for variation between individual territories, the level at which competition and selection are assumed to operate. Here we use nestbox cameras and Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID) to simultaneously assess variation in both nestling diet (components) and provisioning rates (quantity) among a sample (n=22) of different quality great tit Parus major territories selected from a larger breeding population (n=310 fledged broods) in a single year. Caterpillars were by far the most numerous item provisioned to nestlings (mean=75% of prey items), as expected given the known importance of this food source for this species. Broods raised close to an oak tree, or far from the woodland edge, were provisioned the highest proportion of caterpillars. Provisioning rates declined seasonally and there was a weak association between low provisioning rates and caterpillar rich diets. During the first week of the nestling stage, nestling condition was unrelated to the proportion of caterpillars in the diet, provisioning rates and oak proximity. Condition at fledging was slightly improved in broods fed a higher proportion of caterpillars in the diet and in broods raised close to an oak tree. However, in our data early breeding was the only predictor of recruitment success, although power was low for this test. Analyses of long-term data (41 years) from the same population confirmed a relationship between oak proximity and fledgling mass, but not recruitment success. Our results suggest that territory level environmental variation can affect offspring condition, probably through observed changes in nestling diet, but that such variation does not necessarily produce discernable effects on offspring fitness. © 2009 The Authors.