Comparative Analysis of Habitat Selection, Nest Site and Nest Success by Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla Cedrorum) and Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrannus Tyrannus)

By Murphy, Michael T.; Cummings, Charity L. et al. | The American Midland Naturalist, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Comparative Analysis of Habitat Selection, Nest Site and Nest Success by Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla Cedrorum) and Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrannus Tyrannus)


Murphy, Michael T., Cummings, Charity L., Palmer, Michael S., The American Midland Naturalist


ABSTRACT.-We compared nest success, habitat use and nest site selection of cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) and eastern kingbirds (;frannus tyrannus) breeding in the same locations over a 3-yr period to determine if nest success differed between species, or with habitat or nest sites. Nest success was lower in waxwings in all 3 yr (3-yr average: 18% vs. 55%). Both species preferred hawthorns (Crataegus) as nest trees, but in neither species was nest success higher when nests were placed in hawthorns. Nest success did, however, vary with habitat structure: successful kingbirds nests were usually located in the most open habitat (i.e., lowest canopy cover and surrounded by the fewest trees), whereas failed waxwing nests were located in habitats with the densest vegetation. Habitats of failed kingbird and successful waxwing nests were intermediate and similar. Nest sites were very similar, except that waxwing nests were much more concealed in the nest tree's vegetation. However, neither cover nor other nest site variables differed between failed and successful nests within either species. A discriminant function analysis that used mainly habitat variables correctly classified 68% of failed waxwing and 64% of successful kingbird nests, but less than 50% of failed kingbird and successful waxwing nests. Thus, kingbirds and waxwings overlap extensively in habitat use and nest sites, but kingbirds prefer more open habitats, presumably because it allows them to detect predators and defend their nests. Waxwings prefer habitats with denser vegetation, presumably because they rely upon inconspicuous behavior to avoid nest predators. Failed kingbird nests were in waxwing-like habitats, suggesting a link between nest sites, habitats and parental behavior. We believe that the characteristic aggressive nest defense of kingbirds was the major reason for their higher nesting success.

MICHAEL T. MURPHY,1 CHARITY L. CUMMINGS2 AND MICHAEL S. PALMER3 Department of Biology, Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York 13820

INTRODUCTION

Nest site selection in birds is widely believed to have evolved mainly as a defense against nest predators (Martin, 1993). The logic in this argument is simple: nest predators account for most nest failures (Ricklefs, 1969; Martin and Li, 1992; Morton et al., 1993), and in many species the probability of predation varies with nesting habitat (e.g., Blancher and Robertson, 1984; Conner et al., 1986) or nest site features (e.g., Murphy, 1983a; Kelly, 1993; Norment, 1993; Martin, 1996). In particular, vegetation density in the habitat or in the immediate area around the nest have often been implicated as important influences on the probability of predators destroying nests (for review, see Martin, 1992).

However, a number of studies have reported no relationship between cover and success (e.g., Gottfried and Thompson, 1978; Holway, 1991; Filliater et al., 1994; Howlett and Stutchbury, 1996), possibly for the following reasons. First, nest cover is likely to be an important defense against visually hunting predators, but if predators locate nests using other sensory cues or through random search then cover may be unimportant (Zimmerman, 1984; Howlett and Stutchbury, 1996). The importance of nest placement as a deterrent to nest predation might also vary tremendously over time if the abundance of nest predators and nest success exhibit high temporal variability. A clear picture of the relationship between nest placement and success is not possible if nest predation rates are atypical during the period of study. In addition, most studies have limited the spatial scale of measurement to the immediate nest site, but habitat, patch and landscape level variation may significantly influence the probability of success (Kelly, 1993; Norment, 1993; Suhonen et al., 1994). Finally, parental behavior and nest placement have only rarely been viewed as a functional system. Comparative studies suggest that nest conspicuousness and intensity of parental defense may be positively related (Ricklefs, 1977). …

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