In many owl and raptor species, sexes have distinct parental roles. Females incubate the eggs and raise the chicks until independence, while males provide females and their chicks with food. This is believed to reduce sexual conflict over parental care as tasks do not overlap. The level of parental care is also shaped by parent-offspring conflict. The scarcity of empirical data on parental investment in species with sex-specific parental roles was our motivation to study parental care in the Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus in relation to natural annual variation in food availability (vole abundance). By tracking individual birds using GPS-trackers, several aspects of parental care (the number of food provisioning trips, home range size and nest attendance) could be quantified for different nesting phases. We found that in food-poor years, males spent less time near the nest, and had lower food provisioning rates during the incubation and nestling phases. In addition, males had larger home ranges in food-poor years, a possible indicator of increased foraging effort. In contrast, females increased their contribution to food provisioning in food-poor years, as shown by higher food provisioning rates and larger home ranges. This increased foraging effort came at the cost of lower nest attendance by females. Our data suggest that, when food abundance declines, Montagu's Harriers shift from a system with almost strict sex-specific parental roles towards a system where both parents provide the same type of care with possibly increased sexual conflict.
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Vol. 107 • No. 2