Differential post-fledging survival of great and coal tits in relation to their condition and fledging date


Dr Beat Naef-Daenzer, Swiss Ornithological Institute, CH-6204 Sempach, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 41 4629710. E-mail:beat.naef@vogelwarte.ch


  • 1 We present a multivariate model of the post-fledging survival of juvenile great and coal tits (Parus major L., P. ater L.) in relation to chick body condition and timing of breeding. Radio-telemetry and colour marks were used to track tit families during 20 days from fledging, that is, the period of post-fledging dependence. Data on 342 chicks of 68 broods were obtained.
  • 2 Forty-seven per cent of juveniles died during the observation period, predation being the main cause of mortality. In the first 4 days after fledging the mortality rate was 5–10% per day.
  • 3 Survival of juveniles was positively correlated with fledging mass. Furthermore, survival strongly decreased during the season. In the second half of June, mortality was five times the rate of mid-May. The differential survival resulted in selection for both early fledging and high fledging mass. Juvenile condition was less important for survival in birds that had fledged early in the season. Their survival rates exceeded 70% in all weight classes, whereas in late broods only the heaviest individuals survived equally well. The survival of birds fledging both late and in poor condition was below 20%. Thus, selection for high fledging mass was much stronger in the late season than in early broods.
  • 4 We conclude that the impact of predation after leaving the nest results in selection for early breeding and, particularly in the late season, for high fledging mass. This may explain why the earliest broods have been found to produce most recruits into the breeding population even if they did not profit from maximum food availability during the nestling period. On the other hand, energetic limitations may constrain the begin of egg laying in adult birds. Thus, counteracting evolutionary responses to the seasonal development of food availability (the caterpillar peak) and to the risk of post-fledging mortality (the peak in post-fledging mortality) may have focused the period of optimal reproduction to a narrow time-window.