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Habitat and weather are weak correlates of nestling condition and growth rates of four UK farmland passerines

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Agricultural intensification is believed to have driven declines of farmland bird populations and the invertebrates and weeds on which they feed. We investigated whether habitat and weather, as surrogates for food availability, influenced nestling growth rates and condition of four farmland passerines (Skylark Alauda arvensis, Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, Linnet Carduelis cannabina and Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella). We also tested whether nestling growth rates or condition influenced whether a brood subsequently fledged, starved or was depredated. Linnet nestlings are fed almost exclusively on seeds, and were unaffected by weather. Nestlings of the other species are fed mainly invertebrates and were affected negatively by rain but positively by increasing minimum temperatures and daily hours of sunshine. Condition and growth rates of Linnet nestlings were lower in nests further from oilseed-rape fields, rape seeds being important in the diet of this species. Nestlings of the other three species were unaffected by availability of habitats selected by parents foraging for nestling food. Brood fate was not influenced by growth rates or condition for any species. Most models explained little variation in the response variable. Possible reasons, including the possibility that parents trade off their own survival prospects to ensure reproductive success, are discussed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Beds. SG19 2 DL, UK 2: RSPB Scotland, Dunedin House, 25 Ravelston Terrace, Edinburgh EH4 3TP, UK 3: Farmland Bird Group, Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK

Publication date: 2003-04-01

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