Habitat-related variation has been revealed in the seasonal reproductive patterns of great tits inhabiting mosaics of deciduous woodland fragments and managed coniferous forests. The number and quality of offspring tend to be higher in the non-preferred coniferous habitat compared with the preferred deciduous habitat. We explored whether these patterns can be explained by variation in food abundance and/or parental provisioning ability. Frass fall seemed not to be a reliable measure of the seasonal dynamics of nestling feeding conditions, although it is widely used for this purpose. No habitat-related differences were found in the tendency of parents to increase provisioning frequency in response to increased hunger levels of nestlings, suggesting that provisioning frequency as such is not a limiting factor for nestling growth. Higher feeding rates in deciduous habitat were associated with lower proportions of high-quality food items among prey delivered to offspring. These findings confirm that relatively high nestling feeding rates in birds may reflect the low quality of available food rather than the quality of parental care or an abundance of food in the environment. The results also indicate that deciduous forest habitat, though preferred by tits, may sometimes provide poorer brood-rearing conditions than the non-preferred, coniferous habitat. We suggest that the great tit's preference for deciduous habitat, which presumably evolved in more southern regions, may be maladaptive in northern regions where deciduous woods are mainly young, secondary stands of alder and birch.
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Vol. 16 • No. 2