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The correlates of intraspecific variation in nest height and nest building duration in the Eurasian blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus

der Weduwen, D, Keogan, K, Samplonius, JM, Phillimore, AB and Shutt, JD (2021) The correlates of intraspecific variation in nest height and nest building duration in the Eurasian blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus. Journal of Avian Biology, 52 (3). ISSN 0908-8857

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Abstract

Birds build nests primarily as a receptacle to lay their eggs in, but they can also provide secondary benefits including structural support, camouflage and adjustment of the microclimate surrounding the eggs and offspring. The factors underlying intraspecific variation in nest characteristics are poorly understood. In this study, we aim to identify the environmental factors that predict nest height variation and the duration of nest building in blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus, evaluating latitude, elevation, temperature and the timing of egg-laying as predictors of nest height, while also taking into account female and male parental identity. Using 713 nest height observations collected over a period of five years along a 220 km transect in Scotland, we found that if the annual mean timing of egg-laying was earlier, nests were taller. However, there was no correlation between nest height and elevation, latitude, the minimum temperature in the 14 days pre-egg-laying or the phenology of birds within a year. Female parental identity accounted for a large amount of variation in nest height, suggesting that individual behaviour has an influence on nest structure. We also found that nest building duration was shorter when egg laying occurred earlier in the year, and that across all observations taller nests took longer to build. Overall, our results show that blue tits are able to alter their nest characteristics based on environmental gradients like latitude (in the case of building duration) and the annual mean phenological variation of egg laying, and that birds build relatively taller nests faster.

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