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Double brooding and offspring desertion in the barn owl (Tyto alba)
Journal of Avian Biology
Many bird species produce two annual broods during a single breeding season. However, not all individuals reproduce twice in the same year suggesting that double brooding is condition-dependent. In contrast to most raptors and owls, the barn owl Tyto alba produces two annual clutches in most worldwide distributed populations. Nevertheless, the determinants of double brooding are still poorly studied. We performed such a study in a Swiss barn owl population monitored between 1990 and 2014. The annual frequency of double brooding varied from 0 to 14% for males and 0 to 59% for females. The likelihood of double brooding was higher when individuals initiated their first clutch early rather than late in the season and when males had few rather than many offspring at the first nest. Despite the reproductive benefits of double brooding (single- and double-brooded individuals produced 3.97 +/- 0.11 and 7.07 +/- 0.24 fledglings, respectively), double brooding appears to be traded off against offspring quality because at the first nest double-brooded males produced poorer quality offspring than single-brooded males. This might explain why females desert their first mate to produce a second brood with another male without jeopardizing reproductive success at the first nest. Furthermore, the reproductive cycle being very long in the barn owl (120 d from start of laying to offspring independence), selection may have favoured behaviours that accelerate the initiation of a second annual brood. Accordingly, half of the double-brooded females abandoned their young offspring to look for a new partner in order to initiate the second breeding attempt, 9.48 d earlier than when producing the second brood with the same partner. We conclude that male and female barn owls adopt different reproductive strategies. Females have more opportunities to reproduce twice in a single season than males because mothers are not strictly required during the entire rearing period in contrast to fathers. A high proportion of male floaters may also encourage females to desert their first brood to re-nest with a new male who is free of parental care duties.
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