Bitter fruits of hard labour: diet metabarcoding and telemetry reveal that urban songbirds travel further for lower-quality food.

  • June 13, 2020
  • by Jarrett, C., Powell, L. L., McDevitt, H., Helm, B., & Welch, A. J.


Rapidly increasing urbanisation requires mitigation against associated losses of biodiversity and species abundance. In urban-breeding birds, altered food availability for nestlings is thought to reduce reproductive success compared to forest populations. To compensate for shortages of preferred foods, urban parents could increase their search effort for optimal diets or provision other foods. Here, we used telemetry and faecal metabarcoding on blue tits from one urban and one forest populations to compare parental effort and comprehensively describe nestling diet. Urban parents travelled on average 30% further than those in the forest, likely to offset limited availability of high-quality nestling food (i.e. caterpillars) in cities. Metabarcoding, based on a mean number of 30 identified taxa per faeces, revealed that the diets of urban chicks were nonetheless substantially shifted to include alternative foods. While in the forest caterpillars comprised 82 ± 11% of taxa provisioned to nestlings, in the city they constituted just 44 ± 10%. Pre-fledging chick mass as well as offspring numbers were lower in urban than in forest-reared broods. Thus, at least in our comparison of two sites, the hard labour of urban parents did not fully pay off, suggesting that improved habitat management is required to support urban-breeding birds.