, Volume 172, Issue 3, pp 689–699 | Cite as

Experimental dissociation of individual quality, food and timing of breeding effects on double-brooding in a migratory songbird

  • Erin L. O’BrienEmail author
  • Russell D. Dawson
Behavioral ecology - Original research


Annual reproductive success in many species is influenced by the number of breeding attempts within a season. Although previous studies have shown isolated effects of female quality, food, and timing of breeding on the probability of female birds producing second broods, to our knowledge, none have tested the relative importance of multiple factors and their interactions using simultaneous manipulations within populations of free-living birds. In this study, we show that individual quality and timing of breeding interact to affect the probability of double-brooding in female mountain bluebirds (Sialia currucoides). High-quality females (those that naturally initiated clutches early in the season) were more likely to double-brood, regardless of whether their hatching date was advanced or delayed, whereas later breeding, lower quality females were much less likely to double-brood when their first attempt was delayed. This indicates that annual fecundity of poorer quality (or younger) female bluebirds may be more sensitive to seasonal variation in environmental conditions. In addition, birds that were provided with supplemental food throughout first breeding attempts were more likely to double-brood in one of the study years, suggesting that female bluebirds may be energetically limited in their capacity to initiate a second brood. Females that had their first brood delayed also had a shorter inter-brood interval and were moulting fewer feathers during second broods compared to controls, while females in better condition showed more advanced moult in second breeding attempts. Taken together, our results demonstrate the combined effects of age- or individual quality-mediated energetic trade-offs between current and future reproduction, and between investments in offspring and self-maintenance, on annual fecundity of female birds.


Life-history Double-brooding Timing of reproduction Food supplementation Moult 



We are grateful to S. Proulx for providing access to nest boxes. D. and M. Mervyn and L. and H. James generously allowed us to work on their property. D. Baxter and T. Mlynowski provided valuable assistance with field work, and the Hancock family contributed critical logistical support in the field. We thank M.T. Murphy and four anonymous reviewers for comments that greatly improved the manuscript. Funding for this research was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada through a post-graduate scholarship to E.L.O., and a Discovery Grant to R.D.D. Additional financial support was provided by the Southern Interior bluebird Trail Society of BC, the University of Northern BC, Canada Foundation for Innovation and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund. This study was conducted under a permit from Environment Canada, and the research protocols were approved by the UNBC Animal Care and Use Committee.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecosystem Science and Management ProgramUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada
  2. 2.Department of Zoology, Edward Grey InstituteUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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