Numerous studies from different locations in Europe show that nest-box populations of tits in urban areas lay earlier and produce fewer eggs than do tits in rural areas. We collected data on laying dates and clutch size in two great tit Parus major populations nesting in oak deciduous forest and urban parkland areas, only about 10 km apart, in central Poland over 11 years. The abundance of caterpillars, the optimal food of breeding tits, at both breeding areas was also quantified. We analysed long-term trends in the timing of egg laying and clutch size. We focused on the effects of year, habitat type, insect availability and weather conditions shortly before egg laying on the patterns of variation in laying date and clutch size. In general, our study supports earlier generalisations on urban and rural tit populations. In particular, our finding that great tits initiated breeding consistently earlier in the urban site than in the forest area supports earlier studies on urbanised birds. The mean laying date was strongly and negatively associated with air temperature between 15 March and 15 April in both habitats. Mean clutch size was lower in the parkland than in the forest population, at least partly in response to the greater abundance of caterpillars in the forest. A novel result of this study is that clutch size differed between habitats to a varying degree in different years, in association with a stronger response to caterpillar abundance in the forest than in the park. Clutch size tended to decline with the progress of the breeding season within years in the parkland site, especially in “early years”, but not in the forest habitat.
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Vol. 62 • No. 2