© Marcel Burkhardt
Perrig, M., M. U. Grüebler, H. Keil & B. Naef-Daenzer (2017)
Post-fledging survival of Little Owls Athene noctua in relation to nestling food supply.
Ibis 159: 532–540
Among the range of determinants of post-fledging survival in altricial birds, the energy supply to the growing juveniles is likely to play a central role. However, the exact mechanisms shaping post-fledging survival are poorly understood. Using a food supplementation experiment, we determined the effect of variation in food supply on the survival of juvenile Little Owls Athene noctua from hatching to 2 months post-fledging. Experimental broods were food-supplemented for 36 days during the nestling and the early post-fledging period. The fate of 307 juveniles (95 of them provided with extra food) was determined by nest monitoring and radiotelemetry. In unsupplemented birds, the rates of survival measured at 5-day intervals were lowest during the nestling stage, remained low during the early post-fledging stage and steadily increased after about 2 weeks post-fledging. Food supplementation substantially increased nestling survival, but we detected no direct treatment effect on post-fledging survival. Instead, we found a strong indirect effect of food supplementation, in that fledglings of good physical condition had markedly higher chances of surviving the post-fledging period compared with those in poor condition. Experimental food supplementation increased survival over the first 3 months from 45% to 64.6%. This suggests that energy reserves built up during the nestling stage influence post-fledging survival and ultimately parental reproductive output. The low nestling and post-fledging survival shows that the early life-history stages constitute a crucial bottleneck of reproductive ecology in Little Owls. The strong treatment effects on the number of independent offspring indicate that natural variation in food supply is an important determinant of spatio-temporal patterns in Little Owl demography.
keywords: energetic constraints, post-fledging period, radiotelemetry, trophic web