Chick body condition can be a sensitive indicator of local environmental conditions and has been shown to be correlated with chick survival. Designing a reliable index of chick body condition for a given species from a single measurement point requires knowledge about the extent of variation in body size, about chick age and about the relative sensitivity of the growth of different biometric measures to variation in environmental conditions. To gain this knowledge, we describe sex-specific variation in growth of several morphometric measures and body mass of Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia. We repeatedly measured 35 chicks that grew up in small colonies on the island of Schiermonnikoog to derive detailed growth curves until fledging (based on the 12 surviving chicks) and to assess the extent of reduction in growth of starved chicks measured at least twice (n = 11) compared to those that survived. Growth curves until fledging were compared with biometric measurements of two to five week old chicks from (mostly) larger colonies of which hatching date was accurately estimated (n = 631). Growth of all measures, except the eighth primary, was sex-specific, with the most pronounced sex effect on the asymptotic values of tarsus length and body mass: adult males were predicted to become 17% heavier than females and to have 22% longer tarsi than females. Body mass and tarsus growth tended to be more reduced under food deprivation than (head-)bill and eighth primary growth. As an index of chick body condition, we propose to use the proportional deviation in body mass from the predicted body mass for a given age and sex. To do so, measurements of nearly fledged Spoonbill chicks should include at least eighth primary length to estimate age, tarsus length to estimate sex, and body mass as a measure that integrates age, sex and environmental effects.
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