SUMMARYGrowth of nestling House Martins was studied in relation to (a) conditions in the external environment and (b) aspects of their breeding biology. The dependence of growth performance on (1) hatchling weights, (2) relative difference in hatchling weights within broods, (3) brood size,(4) season, (5) earliness of breeding in relation to other pairs in the colony, (6) timing of breeding in relation to the median breeding week of the colony and (7) aerial food abundance, was investigated by step‐down multiple regression analysis. Up to the stage of the peak brood weight, early laying, small brood sizes and high hatchling weights were associated with higher nestling growth rates. Large relative differences in hatchling weights however tended to depress mean brood weights and increase weight differences (= size hierarchies) within broods. These differences in hatchling weights were considered to contribute significantly to 23% of all nestling deaths, because small, late hatching nestlings suffered very high mortality even when food was abundant. The nestlings which died showed a progressive reduction on growth rates and all succumbed before the 11th nestling day. Because these differences in hatchling weights can be linked to the food supply during laying rather than immediately prior to their death, it is considered that the mortality of these nestlings can ultimately be attributed to the low quality of eggs from which they hatched.There was a tendency for pre‐hatching factors to diminish in importance throughout growth, while post‐hatching factors increased in importance and, with one exception, were responsible for explaining all the significant variance in the growth characteristics of fledglings. The exception was that differences in wing‐lengths in broods could be linked with weight differences at hatching. Food shortages lowered average brood weights prior to fledging. Because pairs breeding during the median breeding week had lighter young, it was inferred that competition for food during this peak of breeding activity had the effect of lowering nestling growth performance, although the overall effect was considered to be small. Early breeding pairs tended to have larger broods, and these large broods showed a lowered growth performance. However, early breeding pairs had relatively smaller weight and wing‐length differences, in broods of a given size, than occurred in broods of late breeders. It was therefore concluded that early breeding pairs had some attribute which tended to minimize certain disadvantages of large broods. This effect appeared to be linked to the pair, rather than to season or food supply.

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