Breeding performance and survival in the peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus support an age-related competence improvement hypothesis mediated via an age threshold
Jabi Zabala, Iñigo Zuberogoitia
We studied the effects of age on breeding performance and survival probability in a peregrine falcon population, using data from a long term monitoring programme (carried out over 16 yr), in which we were able to identify individual birds. We compared the breeding performance and survival of yearling breeders, first-time adult breeders and adult breeders. We found significant differences in breeding performance but not in survival. Yearling breeders had lower breeding success than older individuals but the breeding performance of inexperienced adults did not differ from that of experienced adults. We did not find changes in terminal breeding success since peregrines in their last year of life sustained the performance levels shown in previous years although with increasing variability. We found no evidence that attempting to breed affected survival probability in any age group. We argue that differences in breeding performance are related to age, not to breeding experience, and that there is an age threshold, coincident with the development of adult plumage, after which breeding performance is not affected either by age or experience. Peregrines that start breeding as yearlings are likely to have greater lifetime reproductive success than birds entering the breeding pool as adults. Consequently, such birds may represent a set of high quality individuals. Our results support the age-related competence improvement hypothesis as being the relevant explanation for the increase in breeding performance with age.