High metabolic rates of birds demand an efficient oxygen transport system; this is ultimately based on the oxygen carrying capacity of haemoglobin. Therefore patterns of variation in blood haemoglobin content of wild birds are an important aspect of functional ecology. In this paper we report results concerning variation in haemoglobin concentration in the blood of adult Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus and Great Tits Parus major during the nestling rearing period (days 7–15 of nestlings life) of first broods in central Poland in 2003–2009. The most important findings of this study are: (i) average haemoglobin concentration in blood differs between Blue Tits and Great Tits, with higher values in Blue Tits; (ii) males differ from females in both these species, with higher values in females, and (iii) there is also significant variation among years, with parallel tendencies for both species. We explain the patterns of haemoglobin content variation in adult tits by differences in metabolic demands for oxygen transported by blood. The demands are higher for the smaller-bodied species (Blue Tits), heavier working sex (females) and in years with worse physical and trophic conditions, though only non-significant relationships with weather conditions (temperature and rainfall) or food availability (measured by frassfall) were found during our long-term study.
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Vol. 47 • No. 2