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The timing, duration and pattern of moult and its relationship to breeding in a population of the European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris

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Moult was studied in 1 year among Greenfinches trapped in a garden in east-central England. Over the period June–December 2003, 333 captures of 179 individual adults provided information on breeding condition, moult, body weight, sex and age (yearling or older adult, equivalent to birds in their second or later calendar years, respectively). About 95% of all birds (sex and age groups combined) started primary feather moult from 2 July to 14 August, and finished from 10 October to 22 November. The mean date of moult onset in the population as a whole was 24 July. On average, males began 8 days before females, and yearlings began 6 days before older birds. The mean duration of moult was 100 days, whether the figure was calculated for the population as a whole or just for the 36 individual birds that were caught more than once during moult. However, moult rate was slightly slower, and moult duration slightly longer, in yearlings than in older adults of both sexes. No evidence was found for any systematic relationship between moult onset date and rate (duration). Breeding and moult overlapped by up to 5 weeks or more in individual birds, and some birds probably started to moult as early as the incubation stage of their last clutch of the season. The cloacal protuberance (taken as indicative of breeding condition) had regressed in all males by the time the fifth primary was shed, and the brood patch had regressed and re-feathered in all females by the time the fourth primary was shed. The bulk of feather replacement in the secondary, tail and body tracts occurred in the second half of primary moult, and after cloacal protuberances and brood patches were completely regressed. In all birds examined near the end of primary moult the secondaries were still growing, and would have continued growth for up to another 19 days or more, extending the end of the moulting season into December. Body mass during moult was affected significantly by sex and age, as well as by time of day, amount of food in gullet, reproductive condition and date. No firm evidence emerged that body mass was affected by moult stage, after allowing for effects of date and other variables (although there was a non-significant negative relationship between moult stage and body mass in males). In the population as a whole, the breeding season (from first egg-laying to independence of last young) was spread over 21 weeks and moult over 24 weeks. With an overlap between the two events at the population level of up to 9 weeks, the two processes together took up to 36 weeks, some 69% of the year.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-10-01

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