Waterbird nest-site selection is influenced by neighboring nests and island topography

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Abstract

Avian nest-site selection is influenced by factors operating across multiple spatial scales. Identifying preferred physical characteristics (e.g., topography, vegetation structure) can inform managers to improve nesting habitat suitability. However, social factors (e.g., attraction, territoriality, competition) can complicate understanding physical characteristics preferred by nesting birds. We simultaneously evaluated the physical characteristics and social factors influencing selection of island nest sites by colonial-nesting American avocets (Recurvirostra americana) and Forster's terns (Sterna forsteri) at 2 spatial scales in San Francisco Bay, 2011–2012. At the larger island plot (1 m2) scale, we used real-time kinematics to produce detailed topographies of nesting islands and map the distribution of nests. Nesting probability was greatest in island plots between 0.5 m and 1.5 m above the water surface, at distances <10 m from the water's edge, and of moderately steep (avocets) or flat (terns) slopes. Further, avocet and tern nesting probability increased as the number of nests initiated in adjacent plots increased up to a peak of 11–12 tern nests, and then decreased thereafter. Yet, avocets were less likely to nest in plots adjacent to plots with nesting avocets, suggesting an influence of intra-specific territoriality. At the smaller microhabitat scale, or the area immediately surrounding the nest, we compared topography, vegetation, and distance to nearest nest between nest sites and paired random sites. Topography had little influence on selection of the nest microhabitat. Instead, nest sites were more likely to have vegetation present, and greater cover, than random sites. Finally, avocet, and to a lesser extent tern, nest sites were closer to other active conspecific or heterospecific nests than random sites, indicating that social attraction played a role in selection of nest microhabitat. Our results demonstrate key differences in nest-site selection between co-occurring avocets and terns, and indicate the effects of physical characteristics and social factors on selection of nesting habitat are dependent on the spatial scale examined. Moreover, these results indicate that islands with abundant area between 0.5 m and 1.5 m above the water surface, within 10 m of the water's edge, and containing a mosaic of slopes ranging from flat to moderately steep would provide preferred nesting habitat for avocets and terns. © 2016 The Wildlife Society.

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Hartman, C. A., Ackerman, J. T., Takekawa, J. Y., & Herzog, M. P. (2016). Waterbird nest-site selection is influenced by neighboring nests and island topography. Journal of Wildlife Management, 80(7), 1267–1279. https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.21105

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