• body condition and reproductive success;
  • directional selection on timing of breeding;
  • egg size–clutch size trade-off;
  • pre-fledging survival;
  • female recruitment


  • 1
    We tested ecological hypotheses about timing of breeding and reproductive effort in birds, by analysing > 15-year data sets for individually marked females in three species of Latvian ducks (northern shoveler, tufted duck, common pochard).
  • 2
    Duckling survival and recruitment declined with advancing hatch date in pochard and tufted duck, after controlling for effects of female age and other factors with path analysis, a novel finding which indicates that fitness advantages associated with early hatching extended beyond the prefledging period. Logistic regression analysis suggested further that individual duckling prefledging survival was moderate in the earliest phase of the breeding season, greatest in mid-season and lowest later on.
  • 3
    However, selection acting against early hatched ducklings was surpassed by strong directional selection favouring recruitment of the earliest hatching females. The absolute and relative numbers of female recruits produced by a breeding female declined sharply with advancing hatch date in all species.
  • 4
    Unlike previous studies, an hypothesized intraspecific trade-off between duckling mass and brood size was detected, being very robust in two of three species.
  • 5
    Unexpectedly, female age effects on recruitment were manifested only indirectly by several pathways, the most important being the earlier hatching dates of older females. Size-adjusted body mass (i.e. condition index) was positively related to reproductive success, and was 2–8-fold more influential than female size (indexed by wing length).
  • 6
    Overall, fecundity-independent variables (e.g. hatching date, weather, indices of duckling production and habitat quality) generally had 2–10 times greater influence on recruitment rates than did fecundity-dependent variables such as female size or condition, duckling mass and brood size, suggesting a critical role for external environmental factors vs. individual female-specific traits in the recruitment process.