Are artificial bird nests effective surrogates for estimating predation on real bird nests? A test with tropical birds

W. Douglas Robinson, Jennifer Nesbitt Styrsky, Jeffrey D. Brawn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Artificial bird nests are often used in studying birds whose nests are difficult to find, such as those of many tropical species. Yet the underlying assumption that predation on artificial nests accurately estimates predation on real nests may be invalid. We compared rates at which contents of real and artificial nests were lost to predators in a Panamanian rainforest. We attempted to make artificial nests as realistic as possible by moving real, undamaged nests to species-typical nest sites in a study area where the same species were actively breeding. Characteristics of new sites for the moved nests were statistically similar to nest sites chosen by birds. We baited nests with two quail eggs and monitored them for species-specific incubation periods. Predation on real and artificial nests was dissimilar in three of four species, revealing that predation on artificial nests correlated poorly with predation on real nests. In a fourth species, artificial and real nests were lost at similar rates. The latter result may have occurred by chance, because depredated real nests rarely showed any sign of damage; whereas depredated artificial nests were torn, which suggests that real and artificial nests attracted different predators. Our results indicate that artificial nests, even when built by the species themselves and placed in realistic situations, are poor predictors of real nest success and we caution against their use in the tropics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-852
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • Artificial bird nests
  • Daily predation rate
  • Nest predation
  • Panama
  • Tropical forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Are artificial bird nests effective surrogates for estimating predation on real bird nests? A test with tropical birds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this