Producing high quality offspring of good logical performance, able to survive to independence and, then, to reproductive maturity is a major component of life history strategies. The ability of nestling altricial birds to develop a good physiological condition depends to a large extent on the amount and quality of food provided by parents, as well as other aspects of parental care. We hypothesized that experimental changes to the original brood size should affect both parental Blue Tits and their offspring, resulting in corresponding changes in the body condition of the nestlings. Over two breeding seasons, using two habitat sites, we conducted an experiment with two manipulative treatments applied to broods of three-day-old nestlings — the reduction or enlargement of broods by three nestlings, and one non-manipulative control treatment. Our aim was to test whether the experiment would affect a number of different measures of nestling condition: blood concentrations of hemoglobin and glucose, heterophil-to-lymphocyte ratio and morphometric condition index, all being analyzed when the nestlings were 13 days old. We found no effect in the case of hemoglobin, despite the fact that it had previously been shown to be sensitive to large-scale differences in trophic conditions between habitats and years and to the experimental removal of nest parasites. All the remaining variables, i.e. heterophil-to-lymphocyte ratio, glucose concentration and morphometric condition index, responded to the experimental treatments, showing different but reasonable patterns of variation. We suggest that an experimental increase in brood size definitely hinders the development of nestling physiological condition, but even an experimental reduction of broods can affect some physiological indicators (glucose), probably because of readjustments in the feeding rate.
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