Do seasonal patterns of rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) and black racer (Coluber constrictor) activity predict avian nest predation?

Brett A. DeGregorio, Patrick J. Weatherhead, Michael P. Ward, Jinelle H. Sperry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Avian nest success often varies seasonally and because predation is the primary cause of nest failure, seasonal variation in predator activity has been hypothesized to explain seasonal variation in nest success. Despite the fact that nest predator communities are often diverse, recent evidence from studies of snakes that are nest predators has lent some support to the link between snake activity and nest predation. However, the strength of the relationship has varied among studies. Explaining this variation is difficult, because none of these studies directly identified nest predators, the link between predator activity and nest survival was inferred. To address this knowledge gap, we examined seasonal variation in daily survival rates of 463 bird nests (of 17 bird species) and used cameras to document predator identity at 137 nests. We simultaneously quantified seasonal activity patterns of two local snake species (N = 30 individuals) using manual (2136 snake locations) and automated (89,165 movements detected) radiotelemetry. Rat snakes (Pantherophis obsoletus), the dominant snake predator at the site (~28% of observed nest predations), were most active in late May and early June, a pattern reported elsewhere for this species. When analyzing all monitored nests, we found no link between nest predation and seasonal activity of rat snakes. When analyzing only nests with known predator identities (filmed nests), however, we found that rat snakes were more likely to prey on nests during periods when they were moving the greatest distances. Similarly, analyses of all monitored nests indicated that nest survival was not linked to racer activity patterns, but racer-specific predation (N = 17 nests) of filmed nests was higher when racers were moving the greatest distances. Our results suggest that the activity of predators may be associated with higher predation rates by those predators, but that those effects can be difficult to detect when nest predator communities are diverse and predator identities are not known. Additionally, our results suggest that hand-tracking of snakes provides a reliable indicator of predator activity that may be more indicative of foraging behavior than movement frequency provided by automated telemetry systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2034-2043
Number of pages10
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Activity patterns
  • Automated radiotelemetry
  • Nest cameras
  • Nest survival
  • Northern cardinal
  • Predator-prey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


Dive into the research topics of 'Do seasonal patterns of rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) and black racer (Coluber constrictor) activity predict avian nest predation?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this