Factors determining the frequency and productivity of double brooding of Barn Owls Tyto alba

P. Jackson, Will Cresswell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Capsule:  Early nesting Barn Owls Tyto alba and those that switched nest sites fledged most chicks overall because they could fit two, more productive, nesting attempts into a breeding season.
Aims:  To determine the frequency and productivity of double broods in Barn Owls, and for double brooders, to determine what affects the probability of nest switching and how that affects productivity.
Methods:  We monitored the first egg date of each nesting attempt, whether it was in a ‘vole year’, whether a breeding attempt was first or a second annual attempt, the number of chicks fledged from each attempt, and whether a pair switched nest sites, if breeding twice, from 602 Barn Owl breeding attempts in an area of lowland England from 1996 to 2007. General linear models were used to determine predictors of the probability that a pair had a second brood and the number of chicks fledged in each nesting attempt, and then for those owls that double brooded, which variables best predicted the probability of switching, and the number of chicks fledged from the second nest. Finally, we tested whether switching resulted in a shorter laying interval and higher annual productivity.
Results:  Early nesting birds were more likely to double brood, although this was relaxed in vole years when later nesting birds also double brooded. Productivity (through increased numbers of chicks fledged or reduced chick loss) was higher the earlier a nest occurred, and there were more chicks fledged in good vole years and in second nesting attempts. Productivity, brood depletion, first clutch date and vole years did not determine whether a double brooding pair switched nesting sites. Productivity in the second nest did not change with a switch but productivity increased for early first nests and second nests with a shorter interval between the first and second nest. Switching however decreased nesting interval and nesting interval was also shorter if there were fewer fledglings from the first nest. Overall productivity was higher for pairs that switched.
Conclusions:  Double brooding in Barn Owls increased seasonal productivity substantially and its occurrence depended on vole abundance or early nesting. Nest switching between broods may be a strategy for earlier laying of the second brood. Provision of alternative nest sites, close together in a Barn Owl’s home range, may allow earlier re-nesting and so increase productivity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-361
JournalBird Study
Issue number3
Early online date8 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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