The environmental predictors of spatio-temporal variation in the breeding phenology of a passerine bird

Jack Shutt, Irene Benedicto Cabello, Katharine Keogan, Dave I Leech, Jelmer Samplonius, Lorienne Whittle, Malcolm Burgess, Albert Phillimore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Establishing the cues or constraints that influence avian timing of breeding is key to accurate prediction of future phenology. This study aims to identify the aspects of the environment that predict the timing of two measures of breeding phenology (nest initiation and egg laying date) in an insectivorous woodland passerine, the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus). We analyse data collected from a 220km, 40-site transect over three years and consider spring temperatures, tree leafing phenology, invertebrate availability and photoperiod as predictors of breeding phenology. We find that mean night-time temperature in early spring is the strongest predictor of both nest initiation and lay date and suggest this finding is most consistent with temperature acting as a constraint on breeding activity. Birch budburst phenology significantly predicts lay date additionally to temperature, either as a direct cue or indirectly via a correlated variable. We use cross-validation to show that our model accurately predicts lay date in two further years, and find that similar variables predict lay date well across the UK national nest record scheme. This work refines our understanding of the principal factors influencing the timing of tit reproductive phenology, and suggests that temperature may have both a direct and indirect effect.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1908
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus
  • constraints
  • cues
  • laying date
  • nestbox hole-nesting
  • Trophic mismatch


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