Pair bond and breeding success in Blue Tits Parus caeruleus and Great Tits Parus major


*Corresponding author.


Data from 939 nests of the Blue Tit Parus caeruleus and 1008 nests of the Great Tit P. major from nestboxes provided in superabundance in mixed forest study sites between 1976 and 2001 were analysed to examine the effects of mate retention on breeding success and the relationship between mate fidelity and site fidelity. Most birds retained their former partner (76% in Great Tits and 65% in Blue Tits). The probability of a pair divorcing was affected by male age in Great Tits, divorce being more likely in pairs with first-year males. Great Tit pairs breeding together for a second season bred earlier, but had no higher breeding success than pairs breeding together for the first time. In Blue Tits laying date and start of incubation tended to be earlier in pairs breeding together for a second season, but hatching and fledging dates were not earlier than in other pairs. Great Tit pairs breeding together for two consecutive seasons bred earlier in the second season than in the first, but breeding success did not differ significantly between years. In both species, breeding performance did not differ between pairs that divorced after a season and pairs that stayed together. Thus breeding success did not determine whether a pair divorced or bred together again. Neither Blue Tits nor Great Tits improved their breeding performance through divorce. Blue Tit females even had fewer fledglings in the year after divorce than in the year before. Mate retention affected breeding site fidelity. Blue Tit females had greater breeding dispersal distances between consecutive years when re-mating than when breeding again with the same mate. In Great Tits both males and females dispersed more when re-mating than when retaining the former partner, suggesting that mate retention increased the chance of retaining the breeding site. In both species, breeding dispersal distances did not differ between pairs that divorced and pairs in which one mate disappeared. Because no major advantage of mate retention was evident, we suggest that mate retention evolved under different conditions than those found in study sites with high breeding densities and a superabundance of artificial nesting sites.