Food shortage challenges the development of nestlings; yet, to cope with this stressor, nestlings can induce stress responses to adjust metabolism or behaviour. Food shortage also enhances the antagonism between siblings, but it remains unclear whether the stress response induced by food shortage operates via the individual nutritional state or via the social environment experienced. In addition, the understanding of these processes is hindered by the fact that effects of food availability often co-vary with other environmental factors. We used a food supplementation experiment to test the effect of food availability on two complementary stress measures, feather corticosterone (CORTf) and Heterophil/Lymphocyte-ratio (H/L) in developing red kite (Milvus milvus) nestlings, a species with competitive brood hierarchy. By statistically controlling for the effect of food supplementation on the nestlings’ body condition, we disentangled the effects of food and ambient temperature on nestlings during development. Experimental food supplementation increased body condition, and both CORTf and H/L were reduced in nestlings of high body condition. Additionally, CORTf decreased with age in non-supplemented nestlings. H/L decreased with age in all nestlings and was lower in supplemented last-hatched nestlings compared to non-supplemented ones. Ambient temperature showed a negative effect on H/L. Our results indicate that food shortage increases the nestlings’ stress levels through both, a reduced food intake affecting nutritional state and the nestlings’ social environment. Thus, food availability in conjunction with ambient temperature shape between- and within-nest differences in stress load, which may have carry-over effects on behaviour and performance in further life-history stages.

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