Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Calcium is an essential micronutrient for birds during egg formation and for skeletal development in nestlings. Habitat level studies suggest that birds breeding in low-calcium areas may be limited in the size or number of eggs they lay and in the quality of their nestlings. However, as birds forage non-randomly and may travel considerable distances to acquire calcium, describing different breeding environments in terms of their calcium availability is problematic. Here we explore the spatial relationships between 300-fold variation in soil calcium and the life-history traits of ca. 6,000 pairs of great tits breeding in a single continuous woodland over 41 years. Controlling for other habitat differences, we found strong positive associations between soil calcium, clutch size and recruitment at spatial scales of over 300 m from each nestbox, suggesting that females may have been travelling inter-territorially to acquire calcium during egg formation. Soil calcium near each nestbox (mean distance = 58 m) was a strong positive predictor of mean fledgling mass, suggesting that local calcium was more important during nestling stages. We found no effect of soil calcium on lay-date or egg mass. This study is the first to provide evidence that small woodland passerines are limited by calcium availability at several different spatial scales. However, experimental work is necessary to test the causality of these spatial patterns.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





463 - 472


Animals, Calcium, Feeding Behavior, Passeriformes, Reproduction