Identifying predators clarifies predictors of nest success in a temperate passerine

Thomas J Benson, Jeremy D. Brown, James C. Bednarz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. Nest predation negatively affects most avian populations. Studies of nest predation usually group all nest failures when attempting to determine temporal and parental activities, habitat or landscape predictors of success. Often these studies find few significant predictors and interpret patterns as essentially random. 2. Relatively little is known about the importance of individual predator species or groups on observed patterns of nest success, and how the ecology of these predators may influence patterns of success and failure. 3. In 2006 and 2007, time-lapse, infrared video systems were deployed at nests of Swainson's warblers (Limnothlypis swainsonii Audubon) in east-central Arkansas to identify dominant nest predators and determine whether factors predicting predation differed among these predators. 4. Analysis of pooled data yielded few predictors of predation risk, whereas separate analyses for the three major predator groups revealed clear, but often conflicting, patterns. 5. Predation by ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta) and raptors was more common during the nestling period, whereas predation by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) occurred more during incubation. Additionally, the risk of predation by raptors and cowbirds decreased throughout the breeding season, whereas ratsnake predation risk increased. 6. Contrary to expectations, predation by ratsnakes and cowbirds was more common far from edges, whereas raptor predation was more common close to agricultural edges. 7. Collectively, our results suggest that associating specific predators with the nests they prey on is necessary to understand underlying mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-234
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Avian demography
  • Nest predators
  • Predation risk
  • Predator-specific patterns
  • Swainson's warbler Limnothlypis swainsonii

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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