Body condition variation in kestrel (**Falco tinnunculus**) nestlings in relation to breeding conditions
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Ecological research. - Madrid
, p. 1213-1221
The body condition index (i.e., body mass corrected for age or size differences) is commonly used to investigate offspring condition in nestling birds. The body condition index reflects different parameters related to the general nutritional state of nestlings and may predict survival prospects. Since conditions experienced during the growth period can affect the fitness of nestlings in adulthood, we investigated proximate and ultimate factors underlying body condition index variation in kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) nestlings in a 9-year field study and we carried out two cross-fostering experiments to disentangle the origin (genetics plus maternal effects) and rearing (environment effect) components of body condition index variation. In total, we sampled 2,065 nestlings from 464 broods and used 121 nestlings from 24 broods in the cross-fostering experiments. We found that nestlings from larger broods had higher body condition index than nestlings from smaller ones, but this pattern did not emerge in two of the 9 years of study; nestlings born later in the breeding season had lower body condition index in some years but not in others; the decrease of body condition index over the breeding season emerged in all but three-chick broods; males and females did not differ neither in body condition index nor in the covariation between body mass and wing length, while this result was limited to one of the nine field study years; the annual mean value of body condition index did not covary with the total rainfall; both the origin and rearing components explained body condition index variation, but their relative contributions varied from a year to another. Overall, these results suggest that the brood size is not a good predictor of body condition index; the rule nesting early in the season is better is less general than previously thought; the body condition index may contain origin variance, whose expression may be modulated by environmental conditions.