Organisms that reproduce at high latitudes are assumed to have evolved several adaptations to the short summer. For birds, and especially for long-distance migrants, there is a time constraint because both reproduction and moult must be completed before autumn migration. It has therefore been assumed that birds at northern latitudes must initiate their moult during reproduction more often than birds at low latitudes. To investigate how passerine birds breeding at different latitudes allocate their time between reproduction and moult, we compared timing of these activities during three consecutive breeding seasons in three widely separated populations of the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. Our results show that the frequency of individuals with moult-breeding overlap, and moult initiation in relation to breeding stage, varied considerably among populations and years. In all three populations, female moult initiation was restricted to the late nestling period. The males had a more pronounced moult-breeding overlap than the females, but its duration was similar in all three study areas. Thus, there was no evidence for a more pronounced moult-breeding overlap at high compared with low latitudes. These results suggest that pied flycatchers sometimes accept a moult-breeding overlap, but that the time gained by having too extensive an overlap between reproduction and moult does not outweigh the associated costs. Long distance migrants breeding at northern latitudes apparently experience a trade-off between reproduction and somatic investment during moult. We therefore suggest that a pronounced moult-breeding overlap is not a typical strategy used by long-distance migrants to adjust to the short breeding season at northern latitudes.
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