Growth and nutritional state of American Crow nestlings vary between urban and rural habitats


  • Corresponding Editor: J. M. Marzluff.


In urbanized areas, many adult birds find sufficient foods to survive, but the anthropogenic foods that are abundant there may be detrimental to nestling growth. In fact, American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) nestlings are smaller in suburban than rural areas, possibly because of nutrient limitation. Here, we seek to identify possible causes of size differences by comparing both size and blood chemistry measures in rural and suburban crow nestlings. We quantified land use in known crow territories and distinguished three distinct environments: suburban-residential, suburban-managed (e.g., golf courses), and rural. We measured nestlings near fledging age in each environment and bled them for determination of unbound plasma calcium, total protein, and corticosterone. We supplemented a subset of broods in suburban-residential and rural areas with a food high in protein and calcium. Rural nestlings were significantly larger than suburban-residential crows and had higher total serum protein. Nestlings in suburban-managed areas were intermediate in size and serum protein but had the lowest plasma calcium levels. Nestling corticosterone levels did not differ significantly among habitats, indicating that, although suburban nestlings may be food-limited, they were not starving. Supplemented nestlings in suburban-residential areas were significantly larger in some growth measures than their unsupplemented counterparts. Unexpectedly, supplemented rural nestlings were significantly smaller than unsupplemented rural ones, suggesting that parents use easily accessible food even when it is nutritionally suboptimal. Our results indicate that nestlings in suburban areas are nutrient restricted, rather than calorie restricted.