In contrast to most birds, nestling barn owls (Tyto alba) vocalise not only when parents are at the nest but also in their absence. Calls produced in their absence have been shown to facilitate sibling negotiation over the impending food resource. Since nestlings vocalise more vigorously in the presence of parents, they may be calling not to negotiate resources but to compete amongst each other over parental food distribution. A critical issue is to determine whether offspring need differentially affects sibling negotiation and sibling competition, that is vocalisation in the absence and presence of parents. To answer this question, I manipulated the food supply of 26 broods by adding or removing prey items. In the absence of parents, food-added broods vocalised at a significantly lower level than food-removed ones. In contrast, once a parent arrived at the nest, the vocalisation level was not significantly related to the manipulation of brood food supply. This suggests that in the absence of parents, it is more important for food-removed nestlings to vocalise intensely, and that in their presence, the relationship between begging and offspring need tends to vanish. In other words, brood food supply may affect sibling negotiation to a larger extent than sibling competition.

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