How well do artificial nests estimate success of real nests?

  • Wilson G
  • Brittingham M
  • Goodrich L
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Artificial nests frequently are used to assess levels and patterns of nest predation, but how well these nests measure rates of predation or trends in predation rates at real nests is unclear. We compared predation rates between 58 active Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) nests paired with 58 artificial nests designed to resemble Wood Thrush nests. Paired nests were available to the same predator community both spatially and temporally. Rates of nest predation were significantly lower for active Wood Thrush nests (33%) than for artificial nests (64%). Rates of parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) also differed between the two groups. Twenty-six percent of active nests and none of the artificial nests were parasitized by cowbirds. During 1993 and 1994, we conducted three artificial nest trials on six study sites per year. Rates of predation were highest in small woodlots and declined with increasing forest patch size consistent with the trend reported for active nests on the same sites. Within sites, rates of predation varied among trials with the amount of variation highest on sites with high predation rates. Our results suggest that although artificial nests should not be used to measure actual rates of nest predation or parasitism, they may be valuable for detecting trends in rates of predation. However, because there are many potential biases associated with the use of artificial nests that may make interpretation of trend data difficult, we recommend using artificial nests primarily in pilot studies or in conjunction with active nests.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Hylocichla mustelina
  • artificial nest
  • cowbird parasitism
  • nest predation
  • wood thrush

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  • Gina R Wilson

  • Margaret C Brittingham

  • Laurie J Goodrich

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