Nesting Success in Crimson Finches: Chance or Choice?

Research paper by Catherine M. Young, Kristal E. Cain, Nina Svedin, Patricia R. Y. Backwell, Sarah R. Pryke

Indexed on: 09 Mar '16Published on: 01 Sep '15Published in: Ethology


In avian systems, nest predation is one of the most significant influences on reproductive success. Selection for mechanisms and behaviours to minimise predation rates should be favoured. To avoid predation, breeding birds can often deter predators through active nest defence or by modifying behaviours around the nest (e.g. reducing feeding rates and vocalisations). Birds might also benefit from concealing nests or placing them in inaccessible locations. The relative importance of these strategies (behaviour vs. site selection) can be difficult to disentangle and may differ according to life history. Tropical birds are thought to experience higher rates of predation than temperate birds and invest less energy in nest defence. We monitored a population of crimson finches (Neochmia phaeton), in the Australian tropics, over two breeding seasons. We found no relationship between adult nest defence behaviour (towards a model reptile predator) and the likelihood of nest success. However, nest success was strongly related to the visibility of the nest and the structure of the vegetation. We found no evidence that adult nest building decisions were influenced by predation risk; individuals that re‐nested after a predation event did not build their nest in a more concealed location. Therefore, predator avoidance, and hence nest success, appears to be largely due to chance rather than due to the behaviour of the birds or their choice of nesting sites. To escape high predation pressures, multiple nesting attempts both within and between seasons may be necessary to increase reproductive success. Alternatively, birds may be limited in their nest‐site options; that is, high‐quality individuals dominate quality nest sites.