1. In a seasonal environment, subcutaneous energy reserves of resident animals often increase in winter and decline again in summer reflecting gradual seasonal changes in their fattening strategies. We studied changes in body reserves of wintering great tits in relation to their dominance status under two contrasting temperature regimes to see whether individuals are capable of optimizing their body mass even under extreme environmental conditions.
2. We predicted that dominant individuals will carry a lesser amount of body reserves than subordinate great tits under mild conditions and that the body reserves of the same dominant individuals will increase and exceed the amount of reserves of subordinates under conditions of extremely low ambient temperatures, when ambient temperature dropped down to −37 °C.
3. The results confirmed the predictions showing that dominant great tits responded to the rising risk of starvation under low temperatures by increasing their body reserves and this was done at the expense of their safety.
4. Removal experiments revealed that lower body reserves of subordinate flock members are due to the increased intraspecific competition for food under low ambient temperatures.
5. Our results also showed that fattening strategies of great tits may change much quicker than previously considered, reflecting an adaptive role of winter fattening which is sensitive to changes in ambient temperatures.