Egg size represents a fundamental predictor of chick mass and body condition. Chicks from bigger eggs have significantly increased survival, especially in precocial species, where chicks must forage for themselves and cope with environmental threats, such as bad weather or predators. Therefore, our understanding of the factors influencing egg size is crucial both from the perspective of their breeding ecology as well as of their conservation. However, studies simultaneously addressing multiple factors and quantifying their influence on egg size in large samples are rare. Here, we test the effect of seasonality, clutch size and nesting habitat on egg size, measured as volume, in a ground-nesting shorebird, the Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, using a sample of 4384 eggs from 1125 clutches in South Bohemia, Czech Republic, during the period between 1988 and 2018. We report a significant decline in egg size over the breeding season, on average bigger eggs in larger clutches with a significant difference between 2-egg and 4-egg clutches, and no direct effect of nesting habitat. From our review of the same predictors across 15 Northern Lapwing populations throughout Europe it is apparent that replacement or late clutches have on average 3–7% smaller eggs than first or early clutches. Nesting habitat only rarely affects egg size and there are no significant differences in egg size between 3-egg and 4-egg clutches. Earlier studies showed that chicks hatching from bigger eggs early in the breeding season performed better, and that there was higher food abundance available for chicks at that time. This fact, together with the documented seasonal decline in egg size, sends an important message to conservationists and policymakers that early breeding attempts may play a pivotal role in safeguarding shorebird breeding productivity.
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Vol. 107 • No. 3